ROBERT SKINNER : I’D RATHER NOT

I’D RATHER NOT is a memoir but not as you might expect. Most memoirs are published by people who have lived a long and colourful life or have survived some great loss or trauma. None of this applies to Melbourne writer Robert Skinner whose life so far is remarkable only for being so unremarkable.

So maybe it is rather unusual for someone living a totally unremarkable life to put it all down on paper, find a proper publisher, and wait for the invitations to speak at writers’ festivals. And  if you’re as witty and observant as Robert Skinner, that will surely happen.

From the mind-numbing trials of dealing with Centrelink to the dismal delights of living in a friend’s shed, Robert Skinner’s life thus far has generally been underwhelming. He’s worked at many things, generally with limited success, but is sure to now find well-deserved acclaim as a writer and humorist.

Skinner can describe sleeping in a ditch, living in the back of a van, and camping in that garden shed, and make it all sound like a jolly part of life’s great and colourful tapestry. This should just be dull and depressing but when Skinner tells the story it’s good enough to make you pack your bags and take to the road.

There are important life lessons here too, like what to do when you find yourself surrounded by 300 litres of jelly and how to stay sane on an arduous outback camel trek with your parents.

The book is divided into three parts, each with brief chapters regaling us with the adventures and disappointments of the author’s life,  plus an epilogue. Parts One and Two are so funny that you really shouldn’t read this on the tram because you’ll be embarrassed when you start guffawing out loud. Part Three is not quite so funny and feels a little forced, as if his editor had said ‘Come on Robert, we need a few more chapters’. But each chapter is its own little story, so you can pick and mix as you go. If one’s not working for you, just skip a few pages and hop on to the next one. Many of these first saw the light of day as essays in The Monthly and so they stand alone and can be read without any prior context.

Each story is really little more than a dinner party anecdote, just a few pages of generously large type, so the book is a neat little package. Its small size makes it perfect to slip in your pocket to read on the plane. The rather fabulous, if a little disconcerting, cover drawing of a monkey (design by Melbourne creatives Akiko Chan and Aira Pimping) reminds us that we are really not too far removed from our primate ancestors.

I’D RATHER NOT is highly recommended as an amusing look at life; on a deeper level, it will encourage you to consider your own life choices and wonder about the paths not taken. We were all unicorns when we were four but sadly life usually beats that out of you.

Robert Skinner’s great talent is to do all this with an enviable lightness of touch and precious little precocity.  Buy it, read it, and think about life!

 

Robert Skinner  I’D RATHER NOT

Black Inc Books, $27.99,

ISBN  9781760640354

Review by Dr Diana Carroll