I LOVE THE BONES OF YOU / AUTHOR: CHRISTOPHER ECCLESTON / PUBLISHER: SIMON AND SCHUSTER / RELEASE DATE: OUT NOW
The British publishing industry is now festively stumbling into its silly season, bookshelves will be spilling over with autobiographies and ghost-written life stories from assorted TV chefs and soap stars, here-today-gone-tomorrow talent show winners and Love Island pond life. It’s refreshing to read a genuinely powerful - possibly even important - autobiography from a household name unafraid to tell his story, warts and all, and to open himself for public inspection in a fashion that’s sometimes uncomfortably uncompromising. This is the story of Christopher Eccleston, one of the finest British actors of his generation (although it’s a description he’d ferociously disagree with) and it’s also, as its subtitle My Father and the Making of Me suggests, the story of his father Ronnie and the strange and complex bond that existed between them as it does, perhaps, between every father and son.
Christopher Eccleston was born in February 1964 in Salford into a working class family - these are the two facts that Eccleston is determined that his readers won’t forget above all else - as a third child following the birth of two twin siblings a few years earlier. As such, Eccleston occasionally felt like a bit of an outsider, the third wheel living amidst two distinct and pre-bonded pairings (his mum and dad, his twin brothers) and yet he generally seemed to enjoy a happy, healthy relationship with his entire family even though it’s clear that his proud, no-nonsense father has been the greatest influence on his life. Ronnie was a good natured, hard-working family man, a factory worker (eventually promoted into an administrative job he never felt comfortable with) with a ferocious thirst for knowledge, a voracious reader. Yet his circumstances - 1960s Salford was still living in the shadow of the after effects of World War II - often led him to ferocious tempers and, as in many households of the time, the family temperature was dictated by the mood of the ‘man of the house’. Eccleston loved his father - he loved the bones of him - and yet, growing up, it was a love tempered by fear alongside admiration and awe.
Eccleston is his father’s son, and the older man’s influence runs through the actor’s troubled life like the lettering in a stick of rock. Eccleston recounts how much of his character and his behaviour was learned at his father’s feet and his father - and, indeed, his entire family and the very notion of ‘the family’ - have been overriding constants throughout his life.
Readers expecting showbiz tittle-tattle will find themselves short-changed here. Eccleston rarely rates himself as an actor; he tears into his own performances right across his career. He admits to not getting on with his Shallow Grave co-stars and barely exchanging a word with Our Friends in the North co-star Mark Strong. The chapter on his short-lived stint on Doctor Who barely hints at his disaffection with the show’s troubled production process. In contrast, he now seems very warmly disposed towards the role and the new generation of ‘fans’ who tell him he was ’their Doctor’ and he clearly delights in watching his episodes with his two young children. Eccleston’s fiery obsessions with his Salford roots/the working class ethos/masculinity issues become a little wearing in places but the book sings, soars and troubles in equal measure in chapters dealing with his own mental health and body dysmorphia issues (both of which are now controlled but ongoing), the former of which led to him, alarmingly recently, considering suicide, and being admitted into The Priory for treatment for a protracted period. The last few chapters, where he outlines his father’s mental and physical disintegration as dementia took grip are sensitively done and heartbreaking, and he touches briefly on his own fears of succumbing to the disease in later life and the drastic action he’d consider if he’s ever diagnosed.
I Love the Bones of You is precisely the sort of tough, uncompromising, blinkers-off book we might have expected from an actor of Christopher Eccleston’s calibre and intensity. It’s doubtful he would have been interested in writing a ‘traditional’ autobiography merely because he wouldn’t think he had earned it or deserved it. Instead, he’s told his own story through the prism of family, his father, his background, and his upbringing. It’s about as far from a glitzy, flashy showbiz memoir as you could possibly imagine and, although brilliantly and passionately written, it’s a slog at times, and only occasionally touched by the blackest of black humour, it’s a powerful and compelling read, ruthless in its honesty, and unending in its self-deprecation.