Book Review: Unaccompanied Minor by Alexander Newley

Born with a famous name to a show business marriage, Alexander Newley is the son of the Hollywood stars Joan Collins and Anthony Newley. Their life was one of almost unparalleled privilege and glamour but under the glossy veneer there was trouble: infidelity, insecurity and emotional trauma.

This book, written with humour and compassion, tells the story of Alexander’s nomadic childhood; the disintegration of his parents’ marriage; and his battle to make sense of the past. It is also a meditation on art, identity and inheritance, and a portrait of London and Hollywood during the swinging sixties and seventies. Complementing Alexander’s vivid and razor-sharp prose are more than twenty of his own artworks depicting the people who played a pivotal role in his early years.

What I Thought:
Unaccompanied Minor (of which the meanings are manyfold in this book) is a touchingly-written memoir of a child brought up in extraordinary circumstances. It’s clear throughout the book, and through Alexander Newley’s artworks which illustrate it, that the nomadic lifestyle forced on Newley through the breakdown of his parents’ marriage has affected him deeply, and continues to do so.

There are many facets to this memoir as Newley’s parents are, of course, the uber-famous Anthony Newley and Joan Collins so on one hand there are tantalising glimpses of glamorous Hollywood parties and the stars of the 60s and 70s, but there is also an inside perspective on this, on the raging insecurity felt by both parents as they wonder where the next job is coming from and the addictive lifestyles of step-parents and family friends.

There is something so compelling about the children of famous people – children who are thrust into the limelight through no fault of their own, whether they are comfortable with it or not and there is something so tragic about Newley’s writing on his early childhood, appearing in one of his father’s disastrous movies and his having no real memories of his family as a unit, aside from in old photographs. This section is illustrated with Newley’s painting ‘Self-Portrait with a Happy Family’, which shows the Newley family in happier times, but with a grown-up Newley looking on, isolated in the background.

I read a review of this book in The Times, which seemed to look upon Newley’s examination of his past as a bad thing. While I would agree that excessively dwelling in the past can be harmful, some self-examination and a laying-to-rest of the past can be so beneficial, and I see this memoir as more of the latter.

Aside from the content, which is sensitively written with humour and affection, the book itself is beautifully put together. As someone who has never seen Alexander Newley’s work before, it was lovely to see so many of his works illustrating the chapters. In vivid colour, there are a number of his self-portraits featured and I particularly liked those showing his young and older selves together. They have a lot to say about how our pasts affect us as adults.

Unaccompanied Minor is published by Quartet books. To find out more about Alexander Newley and to see examples of his art, check out his website (his theatrical portraits are also especially good).

Please note: I was sent a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are, as ever, my own.

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