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the Complete Review
the complete review - autobiographical

Auto da Fay

Fay Weldon

general information | review summaries | our review | links | about the author

To purchase Auto da Fay

Title: Auto da Fay
Author: Fay Weldon
Genre: Memoir
Written: 2002
Length: 366 pages
Availability: Auto da Fay - US
Auto da Fay - UK
Auto da Fay - Canada
Memoiren eines Teufelsweibes - Deutschland
  • With 18 photographs

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Our Assessment:

B+ : entertaining, if ultimately too loosely collected

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
The Age . 10/6/2002 Joanna Murray-Smith
Daily Mail . 3/5/2002 Val Hennessy
Daily Telegraph . 12/5/2002 Anne Chisholm
Evening Standard . 7/5/2002 Jane Shilling
The Guardian . 18/5/2002 Alex Clark
The Independent . 18/5/2002 Susan Jeffreys
London Rev. of Books . 11/7/2002 Sarah Rigby
New Statesman . 10/6/2002 Rebecca Abrams
The NY Times . 4/6/2003 Richard Eder
The NY Times Book Rev. . 29/6/2003 Janet Burroway
The Observer . 5/5/2002 Kate Kellaway
The Spectator . 25/5/2002 Byron Rogers
Sunday Telegraph . 11/5/2002 Lynn Barber
The Times . 8/5/2002 Joan Smith
TLS . 31/5/2002 Sheena Joughin

  Review Consensus:

  Generally impressed, though most would have liked a bit more to it

  From the Reviews:
  • "Auto da Fay reveals the trickles of a creative sensibility that later became a tide, but essentially, Weldon the writer emerges only at the very end of this volume, in conjunction with her finding and marrying her husband of 30 years, Ron Weldon. In this sense, it is half a memoir, the private background story to the public future. (...) The reader is forced to re-evaluate the spectacular weirdness of Weldon's fiction: having lived such a life any other kind would seem insipid." - Joanna Murray-Smith, The Age

  • "Fay Weldon's wonderfully fluent and entertaining autobiography reveals a life crammed with more gritty drama than a teatime soap.(...) I longed to know about her emergence from struggling mum to literary icon (.....) But that's Fay. Despite the wit, wisdom and bubbling upfront revelations, a certain crucial part of her personality always stays elusive and impenetrable." - Val Hennessy, Daily Mail

  • "Like all autobiographers, Fay Weldon, one of the most prolific, entertaining and provocative of contemporary women writers, has sought to make retrospective sense of the muddle and unexpectedness of life." - Anne Chisholm, Daily Telegraph

  • "The story is one of genteel horror, resourcefully borne. (...) The horrors are recounted with a sprightliness that seems, when one knows that a real person endured them, more gallant than annoying. The aphoristic tendency flourishes, too" - Jane Shilling, Evening Standard

  • "It doesn't matter that Weldon's tone throughout is one of arch, amused detachment; that she anecdotalises her own life into a series of vignettes so throwaway that they brook all sentiment and resemble nothing more than fiction; that much of this memoir reads as if it had been dictated, in high spirits, after dinner and is consequently full of non-sequitur and repetition." - Alex Clark, The Guardian

  • "The book is littered with paths not chosen, but what appear to be random, whimsical decisions seem to have a theme and structure. This is so much more, though, than one woman's journey over difficult, seismic terrain. Fay Weldon is not so wrapped up in telling the extraordinary facts of her life not to notice the scenery around her." - Susan Jeffreys, The Independent

  • "But sometimes it seems as if Weldon were drawing our attention to what is missing. As it turns out, this is an illusion, but it is sustained for a long time because, after the first few chapters, the book reads less like a living person's autobiography and more like the musings of a fictional character." - Sarah Rigby, London Review of Books

  • "There is a brazen quality to the writing: here, as in Weldon's novels, a no-nonsense practicality as she canters through the chaos and wreckage of human lives. Sometimes the effect is a little chilling. (...) As her story advances towards 1963, the year when she started to define herself as a writer, Weldon seems to find it increasingly hard to keep her experiences at a safe distance. The writing itself undergoes a kind of crisis: tenses slide about, narrative trails lead to nothing. The gap between Weldon the biographer and Weldon the character collapses." - Rebecca Abrams, New Statesman

  • "Weldon herself came to writing quite late and apart from the occasional authorial insight, this is not a book about the making of a novelist. It is, rather, about the passage of an intrepid woman through the middle decades of the 20th century." - Janet Burroway, The New York Times Book Review

  • "Weldon doesn't let the reader down any more than she did her mother in this frustrating, engrossing, lazily entertaining autobiography. It is the sort of book stuffed full of things that you hope are made up but fear are true. (...) If this were a conversation and not a book, one would want to keep interrupting to ask more about what she felt, more about what her family was actually like." - Kate Kellaway, The Observer

  • "Reading this book is like watching a speeded-up silent film without captions. Little figures scurry around until they fall down, and in time they all fall down, or go mad, or commit suicide, or run away. (...) It is just that things happen, usually bad things, usually to women, usually because of men. This book is not a load of laughs, but it does bowl along." - Byron Rogers, The Spectator

  • "It is an astonishing story, lightly and deftly told, without self-pity but also -- frustratingly -- without introspection. Always, at what should be the crucial moments of her narrative, she seems to skip away and start babbling about ghosts or Sylvia Plath or anything, it seems, except the key question for an autobiographer -- what was going through her mind." - Lynn Barber, Sunday Telegraph

  • "This is a story notable for its dislocations, its stoical endurance of separations, disappointments and rejections. Its evocation of the 1950s is vivid, as is its record of a kind of female solidarity, more visceral than intellectual, in the face of male absence. (...) The book has a great deal in common with Weldon's fiction, not least the sardonic authorial voice so familiar from the novels. It also has a brittle quality, as though she is aware that she is trying to impose a tidy narrative on unruly events and characters." - Joan Smith, The Times

  • "If events in "this sorry history" are hard to map, its narrator is impossible. More often than not, our guide is a nameless "she", drifting in the affectless limbo which terrified Fay Birkenshaw at her convent school: "What choice did she have ?", we are asked. We have no idea. We really don't know who "she" is." - Sheena Joughin, 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:

       In her memoir, Auto da Fay, Fay Weldon focusses on the first thirty-something years of her life, ending with the birth of her second son in 1963 -- though all along the way she offers at least a few glimpses into the time beyond as well.
       Weldon -- born Franklin Birkinshaw, and with several name-changes along the way before finally coming to the now familiar one -- tells her own story much as she tells others' stories in her fictions. The book is episodic, paragraph-long bits (each separated by enough of a space to leave them standing apart) describing various events, incidents, thoughts, memories, speculations, loosely strung together in titled chapters (though the titles are barely more than a large-print interruption, and Weldon doesn't even bother to start a new page when she comes to one). Those that like Weldon's style -- concise, flighty, digressive -- and her presentation -- the books richly (if not always clearly) populated (the characters numerous, but often merely fading in and out of view, rather than being fully developed), the characters generally wiser in reflection than in action -- should enjoy Auto da Fay. Those who haven't taken to Weldon's books likely won't take to this one either.
       It's a fascinating life, perhaps the single most dominant theme being the flow of men and women constantly coming into and leaving each other's lives. For these first thirty-odd years, Weldon's life is nothing if not unsettled -- and tellingly the book ends once she appears to be on the verge of literally settling down. Weldon was almost constantly on the move (even before she was born, as her pregnant mother travelled to England -- and, shortly after her birth, came straight back to New Zealand), generally very poor and struggling to get by. Most remarkably, she and her family do get by and make do. Her mother takes up any number of jobs and positions, without too much of a sense of desperation but rather of simply doing what needs to be done. Weldon follows in her footsteps.
       There are small vignettes, and bits of information about of all sorts of famous (and less famous) relatives and acquaintances, from her father quite incidentally having been T.E.Lwarence's driver to Weldon bringing over Sylvia Plath and Ted Hughes' mail (mistakenly often dropped off at her address). But almost everything is fleeting, just touched upon and then left. Only some of the observations -- the changing role of women, sexual relations, motherhood -- are more developed, recurring motifs that are slowly shaped into some sort of understanding.
       The characters encountered are nicely described -- particularly her closer family (parents, sister, grandmother) -- but a sense of not really understanding who these other people are remains. Even those closest to her drift away -- her sister, her mother -- reappearing occasionally, but remaining secondary, distant, flat. Similarly, then men in her life, while each having their own very distinctive quirks, seem almost interchangeable, the differences between them almost only superficial.

       Auto da Fay is entertaining, and certainly worthwhile. Weldon writes well: the short sentences, well-framed bits of information, the gentle humour of her reflection all help make for a fine, enjoyable read. Perhaps this odd, peripatetic life couldn't be presented any other way, and yet often one might wish for her to expound more fully on certain events or people. And though she offers a few scenes from her later writing life that, too, is missed: her writing life only begins where the book ends, and though she has described what made her this writer it would also be interesting to learn about that part of her life.

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Auto da Fay: Reviews: Fay Weldon: Other books by Fay Weldon under review: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Fay Weldon, born in England and raised in New Zealand, received her M.A. in economics and psychology from St. Andrews University in Scotland. She is the author of nearly two dozen novels.

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