Book review: Let’s Explore Diabetes With Owls by David Sedaris

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I’VE always found honesty, like Kate Bush, to be over-rated, but David Sedaris clothes his candour with such delicious style, wit and self-deprecation that every little story is a treat that leaves you craving more.

Let’s Explore Diabetes With Owls - David Sedaris

Abacus, £12.99

It helps if you know what he sounds like; if you haven’t heard him on Radio 4 (which has already broadcast a few chapters from his latest book) or been to one of his fan-packed readings, imagine the voice of a fiftysomething gay man from North Carolina who values good manners, pronounces the occasional phrase with a sarcastic whisper and knows when to pause and drink in the laughter.

This new book follows a similar pattern to his best-sellers such as Dress Your Family In Corduroy And Denim and Me Talk Pretty One Day, and is composed of short, moreish chapters about his eccentric family (there is slightly less ribbing about his siblings but his father does provide some magnificent material), the strangeness of other cultures and revealing anecdotes about his childhood and somewhat directionless early adult years.

That peculiar openness comes up again and again, whether he’s pushing those weird sob/guffaw buttons about desperately trying to win his father’s approval, his younger self’s yearning for love (“Johnny didn’t strike me as gay, but it was hard to tell with alcoholics. Like prisoners and shepherds, many of them didn’t care who they had sex with...”) or his half-joking confession that sometimes drama and attention are the most fabulous of all rewards. He also touches on the occasional dalliance with narcotics and admits to some pretty despicable treatment of reptiles collected by his childish self.

The stories are interspersed with short chapters written in the voices of some vile and stupid characters. These are acutely observed, but not nearly as funny as classic Sedaris discussing the “relationships” section of a Mandarin phrasebook, with the terms translated progressing from “faster”, “harder” and “softer” to “it was amazing/weird” and “I never want to see you again”. «