Dawn French is of course well known as one half of the comedy duo French and Saunders (Jennifer Saunders is in fact the “Fatty” referred to in the book’s title). This is Dawn’s biography of sorts – it is told in the form of various letters to people who have played some role in her life.
Many of the letters are written to her father who committed suicide when Dawn was just 19 years old. The memories of him and his love have clearly been a huge force in her life and she writes honestly and openly about the good and the bad times she spent with him. Other letter recipients include her mother, Jennifer Saunders, Dawn’s husband Lenny (Henry), her Best Friend (BF, whose name is never revealed in the book), old schoolfriends, Val Doonican, Madonna and The Monkees.
Some parts of the book read better than others. The earlier letters, which more or less chart Dawn’s childhood and early family life were not as interesting as the later ones, which tell her life from the age of about 20.
Family is clearly of huge importance to her – when she writes about her parents, husband and daughter and her brother, the love comes shining through and is genuinely touching. I admired her honesty in talking about a rough patch her marriage went through – she described her whole gamut of emotions, from anger to fear to forgiveness in a way that was easy to empathise with. Another letter which actually moved me to tears (and highlighted the perils of reading while waiting in a supermarket queue) was the one to her friend Scottie, who died of AIDS – yet she juxtaposes the sadness with a hilarious tale about her mission to scatter Scottie’s ashes in the location he had intended.
Comic relief (no pun intended) is provided through a number of her letters to Madonna (who repeatedly refused to appear on the French and Saunders show) and doting-schoolgirl missives to The Monkees and David Cassidy. I also enjoyed reading about the early days of the Comic Strip, and her work on The Vicar of Dibley.
Overall, after a slow start, this was an enjoyable read, which perfectly illustrated the warmth and humour for which Dawn French is so much admired and loved.