Book Review · Memoir · Non Fiction

How Not To Be a Boy by Robert Webb (Book Review) @canongatebooks #NonFictionNovember

Sent to me by Canongate in exchange for an honest review.
Release Date: 29/08/17

Publisher: Canongate

ISBN: 978-1786890085

Format: Hardback, 336pp

Genre: Non-Fiction

Rating: 5/5

Summed up in a word: Poignant

First Impressions

I was keen on reading How Not To Be A Boy for many reasons. Not only am I a massive Robert Webb fan but I was eager to read a memoir that aims to address a key existential issue. Webb’s comedy work is fantastic and it has kept me entertained for over a decade. I was hoping to get insights into the influences behind his comedy and I actually got so much more than that. Robert Webb is a cautionary tale of taking the world on your shoulders and having to attach a story or meaning to everything that happens to you. I highly recommend this to everyone as it is a truly worthwhile read. Hilarious, heartfelt, poignant and so much more!

Book Synopsis


Don’t Cry; Love Sport; Play Rough; Drink Beer; Don’t Talk About Feelings

But Robert Webb has been wondering for some time now: are those rules actually any use? To anyone?

Looking back over his life, from schoolboy crushes (on girls and boys) to discovering the power of making people laugh (in the Cambridge Footlights with David Mitchell), and from losing his beloved mother to becoming a husband and father, Robert Webb considers the absurd expectations boys and men have thrust upon them at every stage of life.

Hilarious and heartbreaking, How Not To Be a Boy explores the relationships that made Robert who he is as a man, the lessons we learn as sons and daughters, and the understanding that sometimes you aren’t the Luke Skywalker of your life – you’re actually Darth Vader.

My Review

Autobiographies are evolving into something more than just ‘look at me I am famous’. The memoirs I have been reading recently are addressing key societal issues, whether it be gender division, appearance or controversial choices . Robert Webb could have easily just talked about himself for 300 pages and sold plenty of books. But Robert has chosen to use his memoir to address the need, now more than ever, for gender neutrality. Webb’s life has been a series of life lessons surrounding ‘How to be a man’ and Robert is here to set the record straight.

Robert Webb manages to write about his life with his usual wacky and witty humour but retain an air of seriousness and concern around how preposterous the need to ‘act like a man’ or ‘not feel emotion’ really is. Webb is a born entertainer and even his descriptive imagery is pure entertainment. When talking about his ‘manly’ failings, sports comes up quite a few times, especially football.

“It’s a long pass and I welcome the sight of the ball arching towards me in the same way that a quadriplegic nudist covered in jam welcomes the sight of a hornet.” p22

I laughed (quite a lot) and I cried a few times as well. Robert takes us through his challenging childhood. The fear of his father’s rough (and abusive)  teachings of ‘How to be a man’ and the salvation of his mother’s encourage and love. Robert gives us insights into his school life, the loss of his mother (who was his best friend), and his transition from ‘The Land of the Recently Bereaved’ to ‘The Land of Everything is Still Normal’. He also delves into his aims for a Cambridge University education and the pivotal meeting with David Mitchell. (the part I was most excited about, I love these guys so much).

RW looks back on his time as a new husband and father with disappointment, using his experience of repression and frustration to warn other and move forward with his own life. There is definitely a sense of catharsis hidden within the text. A sigh of relief. Robert talks to the reader, explaining how the idea of boys and men being forced to act in a certain way to maintain their masculinity is an outdated pursuit. RW acknowledges the feelings of his younger self but also shines the light of adult hindsight on issues to even out his perspective on his life which makes for a more rounded read. RW fight against the male ego, male pride and ‘chauvinistic orgies of braggadocios machismo’ is an important one and I thoroughly appreciated my time with this book.

The format of RW’s writing is formed into acts (Boys/Men) with statements about what boys/men should or shouldn’t be. i.e boys don’t cry, boys love sport, and eventually, men don’t take themselves too seriously etc. Robert Webb is focused on tearing down the walls of these concepts using his own narrative. My favourite part of Robert’s writing is the conversations he has between different aged Roberts. It is something we all wish we could do and I certainly connected with this idea. Robert is a charismatic individual and he is incredibly open and honest about his life which is refreshing. When discussing his own trials and tribulations he easily manages to connect with everyone around him and makes it fun but poignant too. My only issue with the text was that it was a tad thorough in parts and I felt that RW may have veered off point, but he swiftly gets back to it most of the time so it isn’t too bad.

I resonated so much with what RW was trying to get across to the reader. My circumstances are slightly different as I grew up without a father in a house full of women. I didn’t really cultivate a overly-masculine personality and it certainly has its benefits and drawbacks. What RW ultimately wants is for people to be and feel who they naturally are regardless of sex without the judgement. RW uses his tale of repressed emotion (which inevitably turned into anger) and being forced to act in a certain way as a cautionary tale. It is a great read that provides us with laughs, thought-provoking ideas and insights into the career of one of the key British comedians working today.

Pick up a copy of How Not To Be A Boy here: Canongate / Amazon UK / Goodreads

About Robert Webb

Robert Webb has been a male for his whole life. As such, he has been a boy in a world of fighting, pointless posturing, and the insistence that he stop crying. As an adult man, he has enjoyed better luck, both in his work as the Webb half of Mitchell & Webb in the Sony award-winning That Mitchell & Webb Sound and the Bafta award-winning That Mitchell & Webb Look, and as permanent man-boy Jeremy in the acclaimed Peep Show. He also played Bertie Wooster in the acclaimed West End run of Jeeves and Wooster in Perfect Nonsense. Robert has been a columnist for the Daily Telegraph and the New Statesman, and now lives in London with his wife and daughters, where he continues trying to be funny and to fumble beyond general expectations of manhood.

Robert’s Social Media: Twitter


12 thoughts on “How Not To Be a Boy by Robert Webb (Book Review) @canongatebooks #NonFictionNovember

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