Things I Didn't Know: A Memoir
Robert Hughes has trained his critical eye on many major subjects: from Francisco de Goya y Lucientes (Goya) to the city of Barcelona (Barcelona) to the history of his native Australia (The Fatal Shore) to modern American mores and values (The Cultureof Complaint). Now he turns that eye on perhaps his most fascinating subject: himself and the world that formed him.
Things I Didn’t Knowis a memoir unlike any other because Hughes is a writer unlike any other. He analyzes his experiences the way he might examine a Van Gogh or a Picasso: he describes the surface so we can picture the end result, then he peels away the layers and scratches underneath that surface so we can understand all the beauty and tragedy and passion and history that lie below. So when Hughes describes his relationship with his stern and distant father, an Australian Air Force hero of the First World War, we’re not simply simply told of typical father/son complications, we see the thrilling exploits of a WWI pilot, learn about the nature of heroism, get the history of modern warfare — from the air and from the trenches — and we become aware how all of this relates to the wars we’re fighting today, and we understand how Hughes’s brilliant anti-war diatribe comes from both the heart and an understanding of the horrors of combat. The same high standards apply throughout as Hughes explores, with razor sharpness and lyrical intensity, his Catholic upbringing and Catholic school years; his development as an artist and writer and the honing of his critical skills; his growing appreciation of art; his exhilaration at leaving Australia to discover a new life in Italy and then in “swinging 60’s” London. In each and every instance, we are not just taken on a tour of Bob Hughes’s life, we are taken on a tour of his mind — and like the perfect tour, it is educational, funny, expansive and genuinely entertaining, never veering into sentimental memories, always looking back with the right sharpness of objectivity and insight to examine a rebellious period in art, politics and sex.
One of the extraordinary aspects of this book is that Hughes allows his observations of the world around him to be its focal point rather than the details of his past. He is able to regale us with anecdotes of unknown talents and eccentrics as well as famous names such as Irwin Shaw, Robert Rauschenberg, Cyril Connolly, Kenneth Tynan, Marcel Duchamp, and many others. He revels in the joys of sensuality and the anguish of broken relationships. He appreciates genius and craft and deplores waste and stupidity. The book can soar with pleasure and vitality as well as drag us into almost unbearable pain.
Perhaps the most startling section ofThings I Didn’t Knowcomes in the very opening, when Hughes describes his near fatal car crash of several years ago. He shows not just how he survived and changed — but also how he refused to soften or weaken when facing mortality. He begins by dealing with what was almost the end of life, and then goes on from there to show us the value of life, in particular the value of exploring and celebrating one specific and extraordinary life.
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LibraryThing ReviewUser Review - scottapeshot - LibraryThing
Wonderful writing, compelling and lucid details as usual from Hughes. He never has the most penetrating insights nor has he lived the most admirable existence, but he presents them in an extraordinary way. Read full review
LibraryThing ReviewUser Review - cajela - LibraryThing
Robert Hughes is one of Australia's great expatriate curmudgeons, and for all his flaws he is a brilliant man and a compelling writer. This autobiography of Hughes' early life starts, oddly, with a ... Read full review