Mercurial is a word often used of Cumming; and the quicksilver quality of his personality and career is fully and sometimes brilliantly reflected in this memoir, which charts the ups and downs of his private life against the backdrop of a breathtakingly successful and varied working life ... The truth about Cumming, though, is that this fun-seeking surface of his life is only part of the story; and his mercurial energy also embraces journeys into a deeper and more authoritative place, where he writes thrillingly, and in a much more organised and forceful style, about the intellectual and moral journeys involved in the best of his work ... At 56, in other words, Alan Cumming, comes across as a man of real intellectual and moral substance, who often – for his own good reasons – presents himself as a bit of a showbiz airhead ... We see him in the finest chapters of this book, and in the quality of their prose. And if the next phase of Cummings’s journey involves working that substantial self into an ever more harmonious union with his trademark qualities of lightness and wit, that will be good news for his readers; and for his millions of fans around the globe.
It’s easy to see why he’s so popular: Cumming is delightful company, urbane, self-deprecating and mischievously funny, not above a dishy anecdote or a throwaway dirty pun ... With winning resilience and buoyancy, Cumming revisits a stretch of his young adult life book-ended by two marriages ... It’s a common phenomenon in show-business memoirs that after a performer finds fame, he suddenly has less to write about, splitting the book in half between a hardscrabble Horatio Alger tale and a contented catalog of successive triumphs. By telling his story in two separate volumes, Cumming has made that tonal shift feel less awkward. But the suspense that drove the narrative of Not My Father’s Son is mostly absent from Baggage. This book is less structured, an episodic and sometimes rambling collection of reflections on fame and self-discovery, with a modicum of gossip thrown in for good measure ... Cumming’s second marriage, to the American illustrator Grant Shaffer, is narrated only very briefly in the book’s final pages. Though Cumming has been a prominent figure in L.G.B.T.Q. activism since he came out as bisexual in 1998, the book de-emphasizes this angle, eliding that much-publicized revelation altogether. As a reader, I would have liked a more extended reflection on what it has meant to Cumming to see himself become a queer icon as the world changed around him ... Still, as he takes his leave of us in the epilogue, the 56-year-old Cumming remains the irresistible 'cheeky chappie' who has survived horrific trauma to become a beloved show-business institution, and a perhaps unlikely fount of wisdom.
In general, I'm not one for celebrity memoirs, but "Baggage" captivated me from the very first sentence ... at turns, heartbreaking, infuriating, hilarious and tender. All written in Cumming's chatty, confessional and rather adorable voice (lots of exclamation points), which makes it particularly painful when he writes about the sadistic abuse of his father, of whom he was terrified. And who, my God, later in life he confronted ... There are no apologies here, even as Cumming writes about his drug use, infidelity and a whole host of tragic-from-the-get-go relationships. And it's that unabashed, contented tone that makes this book remarkable. He wasn't always happy, not by a long shot, and he tells us so with courage. But he is happy now, and that makes all the difference.