Handling Edna by Barry Humphries

A quick rundown… Barry Humphries, the manager of suburban wife turned superstar, Dame Edna Everage, tells all.

Strengths: The clever humour, the language.

Weaknesses: How much of this is really true?

Why I read it: Another $5 sale book.

Pages: 388

Published: 2009

Publisher: Hachette Australia

Setting: Australia, London, USA

Rating: 7.5 out of 10

If you liked this, try: My Life As Me by Barry Humphries

This is a difficult book to categorise – is it an autobiography? A memoir? Fictionalised truth? Here, Barry Humphries tells us of his discovery of Moonee Ponds (i.e. Melbourne suburbia) housewife, Edna Everage in 1950s Melbourne and how that young woman became one of the grandest dames of history. Barry lays the rumours to rest that he and Edna are one and describes his tumultuous relationship with Edna through death, alcohol, bankruptcy and gladioli.

Barry paints for us a beautiful picture of 1950s and 60s Melbourne (of which a few points are still recognisable today) and Edna’s life with an ill husband, jealous live-in Kiwi bridesmaid and children. Barry is of course nothing like the common bourgeois that Edna represents, he shudders in her attempts at class and social climbing. But which of them has the better insight into the average (or ‘everage’) Australian? Edna becomes a hit much to Barry’s dismay on the stage and screen and he reluctantly becomes her manager while trying an acting/comedy career for himself. Edna’s dreams become true beyond her wildest fantasies while Barry becomes a shadow of his former self. Eventually they will work out that they need each other (but not that greasy Les Patterson).

Humphries has written a wildly witty work of his time with Edna. I fear that Edna herself may not understand all the words he uses in various descriptions (an ebook version would be useful at times to use the inbuilt dictionary, but I’m probably showing my bourgeois side my even suggesting it). Barry paints himself as the perfect Toorak snob (upper class suburb of Melbourne) reacting to Edna’s feisty middle class suburban roots and the need to keep up and then overtake the Joneses. In some ways, she represents Australia itself.

While it’s debatable how much of the plain truth is in this book, it’s a fantastic tale and a great read for any possum, if only for the photos of Dame Edna’s outlandish outfits from the past through to today.

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