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the Complete Review
the complete review - memoir

The Year of the Jouncer

Simon Gray

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To purchase The Year of the Jouncer

Title: The Year of the Jouncer
Author: Simon Gray
Genre: Memoir
Written: 2006
Length: 282 pages
Availability: The Year of the Jouncer - UK
The Year of the Jouncer - Canada

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Our Assessment:

A- : good fun, very well done

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
The Guardian A- 28/1/2006 Andrew Motion
The Independent . 20/1/2006 John Walsh
New Statesman . 6/2/2006 Christopher Bray
The Observer A 24/1/2006 Ranjit Bolt
The Spectator A+ 21/1/2006 Lloyd Evans
Sunday Times . 22/1/2006 Paul Bailey
The Telegraph . 29/1/2006 Anthony Quinn
The Telegraph A+ 5/2/2006 James Naughtie
The Times . 28/1/2006 Iain Finlayson
TLS A 17/2/2006 Jeremy Treglown

  Review Consensus:

  Impressed, entertained

  From the Reviews:
  • "Gray's sentences seem to be sweeping him along on a strong stream of present-consciousness; it fact they're skilfully managed to create and sustain a persona. (...) As in The Smoking Diaries, he registers his deep worries by cartooning himself, or shrugging, or avoiding them altogether. Yet from the title on, we are gently but definitely steered along the difficult path between cause and effect." - Andrew Motion, The Guardian

  • "Reading the book must, you feel, be exactly like having your ear bent by Simon Gray for an evening. Fuelled by umpteen Diet Cokes and a hundred cigarettes, he'd surely regale you in just this way, complete with digressions, complaints and No-I-tell-a-lie-it-was-Thursdays. Whether you like it depends on your taste for his style of meandering, self-contradictory prose. (...) Now and then, you feel you're reading a sub-sub-genre -- not so much stream-of-consciousness as stream-of-senior-moments." - John Walsh, The Independent

  • "In this memoir-cum-diary-cum-critique of the contemporary, everything from the sight of English youth to the squeak of his new moccasin-style shoes gets Gray's goat. Why, you keep wondering, did Granta not insist on cashing in on its predecessor's success and call The Year of the Jouncer "The Fuming Diaries" ? Gray's prose is made up of such baggy, short-circuiting, comma-clogged ruminations, and though I loved it, I can see that it could be found tiresome. (...) Yet for all its shapelessness, The Year of the Jouncer is as carefully constructed as a clock." - Christopher Bray, New Statesman

  • "Whether remembering or musing, describing or disparaging, he is always sharp, clever, eminently readable. There's something for everyone here. Or rather, there's a lot for all of us, inasmuch as there is a great deal of sensitive and intelligent reflection, implicit rather than overt, on the whole messy, vaguely horrible and yet somehow enjoyable business of existence. Not to mention the obvious interest of a celebrity's life and past, engagingly evoked." - Ranjit Bolt, The Observer

  • "This is a work of enormous and conscious artifice. If you dissect one of Grayís monumental paragraphs you find an underlying design that gives his prose movement, rhythm and life. Itís a great achievement, a terrific read, every page crammed with jokes, philosophical observations and miniature portraits of Grayís family and friends." - Lloyd Evans, The Spectator

  • "Diaries give their writers the freedom to digress, and Grayís digressions are as brilliant as they are idiosyncratic." - Paul Bailey, The Sunday Times

  • "I'm not sure that The Year of the Jouncer is quite as good as its predecessor; the degree of writerly self-consciousness, always high, occasionally spirals towards the neurotic. (...) The book is less gloomy than this sounds; it is buoyed by a jaunty dismay. Mortality may be his subject, but vitality is his mode. While increasingly frail, deaf and grumpy, Gray is none the less thankful to be alive" - Anthony Quinn, The Telegraph

  • "His brushstrokes are masterly. (...) (N)o one will put down this book without marvelling at how so many apparently melancholy episodes can be turned by a kind of alchemy into such an invigorating cocktail. He makes you laugh on every page, and can draw you as a willing observer into the most bizarre scenes which might not have obvious appeal." - James Naughtie, The Telegraph

  • "Itís hard to stop quoting -- the book almost has to be read aloud in its entirety (.....) (M)ore worth reading than most other memoirs that are likely to be published this year. For its jokes alone, you will want to buy half a dozen copies as presents." - Jeremy Treglown, Times Literary Supplement

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       The Year of the Jouncer is yet another installment in what has now become a very successful diary-franchise, and continues very much in the vein of the similarly entertaining The Smoking Diaries, the launch of which is one of the events covered in this volume. While earlier books were much more theatre-diaries (such as Fat Chance), Gray now takes a broader view -- and perhaps isn't as intensely involved in play-production any more. The Year of the Jouncer begins comfortably on Barbados, and ends a year later, Gray looking forward to his imminent return there for his annual vacation.
       The usual highlights are all found here: some reminiscences from childhood and youth, the staging (actual and planned) of some of his plays, day-to-day events (including cameo appearances by Harold Pinter and others), his pets, sick and dying friends (Alan Bates), and some cranky commentary on a world not always to his liking (notably once again including complaints about popular attitudes towards (and laws against) smoking and smokers).
       Gray moves his narrative around a lot, the text divided into very short sections, few longer than two pages, many consisting of a single paragraph. Stories sometimes carry over across a few of these sections, but he also jumps around. It's again a self-aware text, Gray sometimes describing the act of writing itself, commenting (as is appropriate in a diary) on what is happening around him. ("What else can I do in life but fill these spaces ?" he notes at one point, looking down at his yellow pad and the empty lines and spaces -- a rare observation where he seems to be trying just a bit too hard.) He's got his approach down pat -- and he does it very, very well.
       The jouncing of the title refers to his "self-perambulating" abilities in his pram when he was a baby: apparently he figured out a way of jumping up and down in it that would set the unattended pram in motion -- with "the need to make a noise" part of the fun. More than sixty years later, he still sees himself propelling himself about in similar fashion.
       Gray's plays figure some during the year. There's that production of The Holy Terror with Simon Callow, for one, where Gray realises when he sees a preview in Brighton that: "It's the wrong play. They're doing the wrong play !" -- as they're doing the first published version, "six or seven drafts away from the later one". They make the transition, but it still doesn't work out too well. Later, there's a production of The Old Masters. And with the publication of The Smoking Diaries Gray finds himself starring in an accompanying BBC documentary, enjoyably relating the staged bits meant to look so natural (and the problems that his constantly having a lit cigarette in hand caused, since for the sake of continuity the cigarette couldn't disappear from a scene that wasn't, in fact, shot in one go).
       Much of the fun is in how Gray simply lets his mind wander off. His explanations of his memories, some of which he can't exactly place, or arguments where he's forgotten which side he took ("I still don't know whether I argued for or against G.M.Hopkins as a seed-waster or seed-hoarder") nicely add to the personal feel of the book. He has no problem admitting when he might be mistaken or is unsure: he just throws it all out there (including, hilariously, him wondering whether Piers (his brother's name) is the only Christian name ending in 's').
       There are some touching (and often also very funny) reminiscences about friends and family, while his confrontations with strangers are equally entertaining. Gray also offers some strong opinions, though he knows that for the most part his complaints are futile: it's become a silly world, and he knows he won't be able to change it.
       Well worthwhile, The Year of the Jouncer is a pleasure to read and offers very good entertainment. Gray may have done this before, but each new volume is just as welcome -- and, really, quite as good. May many more follow.

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The Year of the Jouncer: Reviews: Simon Gray: Other books by Simon Gray under review: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       British author Simon Gray (1936-2008) wrote numerous plays, as well as works of fiction and non-fiction.

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© 2006-2010 the complete review

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