Off You Go by Maeve Higgins

Hachette Books Ireland

When you’re a person known as being the class clown, or always up for a laugh, or the general comedian of the group it’s sometimes difficult for others to understand that that’s only part of the parcel. Like everyone else it can be restricting to be defined by one part of your personality or character, and ‘the funny one’ can find it even harder to converse seriously without making others feel almost uncomfortable that they’re out of the familiar comfort zone.

Maeve Higgins is a comedian and television personality who first appeared on our screens playing a bride in search of a husband on hidden-camera show Naked Camera. A hit with viewers it catapulted her straight into the public eye and she soon won over a new audience with her off-kilter humour and witty writing style in a column in The Irish Times Weekend Magazine via a cookery show with her sister Lili. A move to London beckoned, which is where we find her at the beginning of her personal account of moving away into the unknown and “loving it. Sort of”. Off You Go

On any journey undertaken as an adventure, a possible re-imagining of your future, the anticipation is often tinged with nervousness or fear and excitement, and for so many the gamble pays off. But what if it doesn’t? Higgins shares with a capable and sometimes melancholy humour the pain and embarrassment of things just not working out. Going home with your tail between your legs is not part of the plan. She recalls an incident when a well-known comedian is talking with his wife outside a comedy club, not knowing that she is behind them. They laugh at the fact that she’s now “waitressing in London”, a mean-spirited but sadly typical reaction to someone finding success and having it collapse when they tried to go further.

While the book deals with sad, lonely moments and heartfelt insights into a personality known as being jolly and carefree but which is secretly simmering with anxiety and self-doubt, it is far from doom and gloom. Higgins has a great knack for making the mundane and small things in life seem uproariously entertaining, and anecdotes into her childhood and experiences on her way to and in America are laugh-out-loud funny. There’s a loose narrative that takes her from home in Cork, to Dublin then London and eventually to New York interspersed with throwback stories to her childhood and stories that demonstrate the mood at the time and personal thoughts delivered in her signature whimsical truth-telling.

The construction of the book itself could be better, and would have benefited from a slightly more interesting style. Amy Poehler’s recent memoir Yes Please, for instance, would have been an ideal model to base it off. In it the narrative was cut through with lists, letters and non-sequitur-esque thoughts on various subjects which were presented differently from the rest of the main body of the auto-biography and I couldn’t help but feel that Higgins’s book would have come together in a more coherent and less confusing way. It would have been a more elegant way of differentiating between the comedic observations, stories from her childhood and the more poignant and affecting words on loneliness and depression. (You can see my review of Yes Please here).

Higgins is a good writer and has a skill for adding a touch of eccentricity and fun to what could in someone else’s hands be a boring story about a horrible party they attended once. Having read, enjoyed and looked forward to her essays in The Irish Times and been captivated by her unique style I would venture to say that this is not yet her best work, that that has yet to come. But it is an unexpectedly deep read that – again – would have done well with a more sophisticated presentation. The book should be of interest to a wider audience than it is marketed to, and (it has to be said at this time of year) would have been a fitting Christmas present for anyone you struggle to buy for. Here’s to a lot of birthday presents in 2016!

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