Book Review: Back Story by David Mitchell

I’m a big fan of David Mitchell, he’s a very talented and funny guy, who’s been involved in some stuff I’ve really enjoyed, so when he released his memoir it went straight onto my Christmas wishlist.


If you’re familiar with his appearances on panel shows, his Soapbox podcasts and his Observer column you’ll pretty much know what you’re in for- clever, witty and warm writing shot through with a very British sense of manners, self deprecation and a mix of sentimentality and cynicism.

The book is structured around one of Mitchell’s walks, something he started to do to aid his bad back (hence the title) and as such the book manages to be more than a memoir. Mitchell tells anecdotes and tells his life story but along the way also describes the London locations he passes and uses them as a jumping off point to go on little diversions where he discusses his views on various subjects including the perception of “coolness” which he is uncomfortable with and the effect of fame on his life as well as general musings on society.

Mitchell writes in this great way which makes it seem easy, but there’s clearly a lot of thought that’s gone into it, as it’s an incredibly entertaining and cleverly written book.

Throughout the book he doesn’t shy away from shining a light onto the darker parts of his life, although it must be said that this isn’t one of those depressing memoirs loaded with misery and hard times, but rather he deals with the regular, normal darker moments. The feelings of being weird and not fitting in, the fears of failure and an awkwardness of worrying about how you’re going to be perceived.

The self deprecating humour is really funny throughout and makes Mitchell a narrator you warm to quickly, he’s charming and amusing and not full of himself, and it all feels rather natural. The self deprecation is how he is, not an act to make us like him more and he doesn’t shy away from highlighting his flaws and failing throughout.

He’s honest about these failings and his insecurities, and you get the image of a man who’s a mix of confidence in his abilities coupled with intense fears and doubts, but isn’t that how most of us are? For some, Mitchell appears to be someone who emerged fully formed and quickly into success, but he reveals the arduous process of auditions, failed projects and disappointments that happened as he tried to build his career.

I found myself liking him more and more as the book went on, finding that while we differ on some things there are insecurities and opinions I shared with him, and that’s always going to make you like someone more, isn’t it? There’s also a frankly wonderful section where he discusses his feelings for his wife, Victoria Coren. It’s such a heartwarming and sweet confession of his love for her that it really struck a chord with a romantic/soft git like me.


Verdict: A funny and extremely well written memoir by a guy who seems genuinely charming and likable, filled with honest insight and a really great streak of self deprecation. 8/10

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.


2 Comments on “Book Review: Back Story by David Mitchell”

  1. Hi, cool review. We just filmed his new book trailer, paperback came out today. For anyone reading this blog they may be interested in watching David talk about the book, you can see it here on Youtube, there will also be a number of follow up episodes where he talks about the walk around London, his bad back and makes hilarious observations about his own life. Watch the Trailer and related videos here

  2. […] comedian, going so far as to even make his one of my picks for a new Doctor. I’ve read his memoir, which I found hugely entertaining and so a collection of his columns for the Observer paper went […]

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