This lively and honest memoir has inner conflict at its core. Theroux writes of his parents’ failed relationship, “I had the feeling that at the point of leaving home, home itself had disappeared … exposed as hollow, based on lies and improvisations … a Potemkin village erected by its own inhabitants”; and observes of his own attitude to marriage that “I liked to think my resistance to being married was part of a bohemian attitude to do with the fatuity of weddings, their role as platforms for materialism and showing off, as bourgeois status showdowns. But if I’m honest with myself, I also see a deliberate withholding, a misjudged sense that it might keep Nancy on her toes”. He can seem needy and immature, but he is not without self-awareness – or self-criticism. It seems to rankle with him that of all the people he got to know through his documentaries, the one he seemed closest to was the one he misread so seriously: “It feels a little like being friendly with Jack the Ripper”.
Louis Theroux’s memoir is exactly how you’d expect an account of his “life and strange times in television” to be; self-deprecating, eager to please and shot through with a sense of bewilderment. “I am a TV presenter who specialises in getting out of his depth,” he writes and, indeed, this book’s pleasures lie in behind-the-scenes tales of Theroux’s offbeat documentaries, chief among them the Jimmy Savile encounter. Perhaps because it cast a shadow over his career (how could he have found himself so drawn to this monster?), Theroux spends a lot of time grappling with his feelings about the affair.
Theroux is, understandably, still haunted by Savile. His new memoir is, on one level, an investigation into how Theroux grew up to be The Guy Who Failed To Nail Savile, and an exploration into how he learns to live with that...Theroux’s meetings with Savile’s victims make for necessarily difficult reading. He’s compassionate, although there’s an odd moment when one woman invites him to attend a counselling session with her so he can witness the emotional fallout. He doesn’t go, and doesn’t explain why.
Theroux’s book is, in part, his own map of the treacherous ethical terrain he often crosses. Equally on-brand is the engaging, funny memoir running alongside the darkness. You wonder if he should have quarantined his Savile material into another book, but as it is, it honours Theroux’s belief in nuance and complexity, his warning against pretending abusers are from the “realm of Grand Guignol” rather than “real world” creatures... A redemptive personal arc matches the professional one, as Theroux discusses his first “marriage of convenience”, once off-limits, and his second marriage to the producer Nancy Strang, with whom he has three sons. His writing on family is comically astute, his dissection of rows between knackered working parents a new field of domestic investigation. His ultimate home truth, though, is simply that “we are complicated” — and with this illuminating yet darkly shadowed memoir, he places himself firmly within that frame.
Britain’s favourite documentarian takes is on another journey into the unknown – this time, his own life. Honest and perceptive as ever, Theroux’s experiences in TV makes for a fascinating read.