Switching between the diaries of her teen years in suburbia, dreaming of boys, music and freedom, and her return there in 2016, this is a fascinating, inspiring and appropriately melancholy look at how everything and yet nothing has changing about being a teenager with eyes on the big city.
Eventually, the book unfolds into a sharp and tender discussion of what it means to know and define oneself, and its best parts ask probing questions of what it means to be a mother or a daughter. The title of this book was, in fact, an unwittingly parental gift. A dismissive comment that Thorn overheard: “Oh Tracey. She’s from another planet.” Among Thorn’s most moving and straightforward confessions, in this account, are those that concern feeling pretty alienated.
I am wary of confessional writing, associating it on the one hand with misery memoirs and on the other with humble-bragging. And I can never rid myself of the suspicion that most alleged guts-spillers are fibbers. I don’t mind people lying to me one bit — it can be entertaining stringing them along, pretending to believe them — but if I suspect they’re lying to themselves, I check out.
This tender-hearted, tough-minded book seems set to revivify a genre that can too often be self-deluding and thus pointless. And now she’s a proper published, brilliant writer, I can finally admit I could never stand Tracey Thorn’s singing voice all along — ‘Julie’ or no ‘Julie’.
So how do you fatten up a red Letts notebook of teenage disappointments, once you’ve made your initial point about teenage boredom?... There were points when I wondered whether it wouldn’t have been a better long article... Her attempts to jazz it up, while appreciated, can feel overwritten... Thorn addresses her teenage self with exasperation and understanding... It’s a lovely moment when Thorn the mother, now experienced in teenagers of her own, feels how it might have felt to be her mother... It’s one of the greatest self-realisations of all.
Another Planet is part memoir, part anthropology... she becomes an everyday ethnographer in this “contingent, liminal, border territory”, outside the M25 and beyond the reach of the tube... There are touching sketches of Thorn’s parents... Readers of Thorn’s two previous memoirs will recognise the tone of this book, with its beautifully clean style, careful self-questioning and pervasive likability. Sometimes it loses its focus in riffs about her present life, borrowed from her New Statesman columns.
Thorn has written two other excellent memoirs, and any number of wonderful lyrics. She has observed, of Everything But The Girl’s earlier music, that “sounding like Astrud Gilberto while coming on like Gang of Four was always going to be a problematic approach”. (EBTG’s early sound was tuneful, with a Latin jazz feel; but their lyrics and interviews were sharply political. “Each And Every One”, their second single, was assumed to be about a lover, when in fact it was taking sexist music reviewers to task.) But this is what she does. She marries spiky lyrics with delightful tunes. And it’s the same, even without the music. Her language is straightforward, chatty, easy-to-read. Musical. Though Thorn tells us sharp truths, we gobble them up because she delivers them in such a deceptively pretty, poignant way.
There's so much to adore about musician and writer Tracey Thorn's love (and hate) letter to Brookmans Park, the Hertfordshire commuter town where she grew up. Her frustration at being trapped in a neighbourhood ruled by the Rotary Club is hilariously captured in her diaries of the time. This will strike a chord with anyone who spent their adolescence yearning for the city's mean streets.
Teenage Tracey doesn’t live there any more but happily she’s left her diary behind, extracts from which are one of the pleasures of this delightful, incisive memoir... You don’t turn to Thorn’s memoirs...for rock ’n’ roll name-dropping, but for someone who can – to quote her quoting Updike – “give the mundane its beautiful due”... The past is another planet and the diary twinkles with the arcane poetry of lost brand names – Aqua Manda, Green Shield Stamps.
Her diaries reveal it to have been both dull and dangerous, a place where a girl of 13 could either sit home and watch telly or instead slip off to the disco, where you would have to fight off the 'WHT: wandering hand trouble' of much older men.
Caught between nostalgia and horror, she remembers the Seventies drinks: 'Strange, vivid syrupy mixtures: gin with undiluted orange squash, lager with lime cordial, vodka with grenadine, the colour and flavour of the rinse-and-spit mouthwash at the dentist's.
She enjoys a cumulatively hilarious string of entries showing how her young life was built around things that didn’t happen — “Went to Welwyn with mum and dad to get some boots but couldn’t get any”; “Tried to go to the library but it was shut” — endless mundane disappointments, the world constantly saying no. No culture, no entertainment, travel dependent on bus timetables: she shows Brookmans Park as a flooded engine of a place, thwarting forward movement.
If you too grew up in a place on the fringes of the city, but neither really here nor there, then you'll love this account of spending one's restless teenage years in a 1970s commuter village by the singer-songwriter and author of Bedsit Disco Queen. Peppered with her often hilarious diary entries at the time ("Liz and I went to Potters Bar in the afternoon to try to get her ears pierced but she couldn't"), it perfectly captures the stultifying experience of being a ball of nascent energy and creativity but without any outlet for it