Bentley’s Grade: B-
Title: Home Work: A Memoir of My Hollywood Years
Author: Julie Andrews (with Emma Walton)
Publisher and Date: Hachette Books/Hachette Audio, 2019
Length: 13 hours 23 minutes
Julie Andrews’ second memoir, Home Work: A Memoir of My Hollywood Years, was not one of my favourite things. This book was much harder to get through compared to her first one, which I mostly attribute to its rather melancholic themes.
The book starts out promising as Julie picks up from where she left off in her previous book (during the filming of Mary Poppins). Starting in about this time period, however, Julie experiences high levels of inner conflict, causing her mood to oscillate between happiness, anxiety, and indecisiveness. For most of the approximately twenty-year span over which the book takes place, her relationship with her second husband, Blake Edwards, seems to cast a shadow on all areas of Julie’s life. Blake, being a highly creative person, who also suffered from anxiety, depression, addiction, and hypochondria, was never content to stay in one spot. Similarly, Julie’s professional obligations wouldn’t allow for any one long-term residence, meaning that family responsibilities played second fiddle. I get the impression that there was little stability or consistency at home, and this left everyone, including their children, feeling anxious and without a place to anchor themselves.
Quite often, Blake’s professional whims took precedent; however, his anxieties and bouts of depression also dictated the direction of their lives. I am by no means criticizing Blake for this, as I, too, am a hypochondriac (well, they don’t call it that anymore—I suffer from health anxiety). And I can also relate to his fear of death, which is one underlying cause of health anxiety. But I do have to wonder whether Julie accepted Blake’s “darkness” (his nickname was Blackie) because she simply couldn’t cope with feeling like she failed another marriage.
Throughout this time, Julie also seems to struggle with balancing her desires to be a mother and wife, and also to be a performer and actress. I sense that she feels guilty for not being more present in her children’s lives. Julie regularly adds asides that praise Emma for how well she handled things, or for how well she understood something at such a young age, etc., etc.. Adopting two more children into a home where there was already so much going on, doesn’t seem, to me, like it was the best idea either. Julie even expresses her concerns about this at one point, acknowledging that one of her adoptive daughters begins to act out as a result of her lack of face-to-face time; thus, reactivating the child’s abandonment issues caused by living in an orphanage. Yet, in the next breath, Julie explains that she had to return to their California home to help transition the girls to their new nanny, since their previous nanny was leaving.
Lastly, it unsettles me to hear how much Julie values psychoanalysis and relied on visits with her psychoanalyst (side note: When Blake was at his most vulnerable, he was seeing his analyst seven days a week—and yet, it was the making of his independent film, That’s Life!, that appears to have lifted him out of his abyss). I support therapy, and have been seeing a therapist regularly to help with my health anxieties and panic attacks for over a year now, but I’ve always been skeptical of this branch of analysis.
I don’t mean to imply here that a person’s negative life experiences equate to a negative reader/listener experience. For me, I think the difficulty lies in my inability to get behind, or support, if you will, Julie’s justifications for her behaviour and decisions. I know it’s much easier to see the flaws in someone else’s rationale versus your own—glass houses, right? But, alas. Although I don’t have many positive things to say about Home Work, I did like the Epilogue. She concludes on a humble and appreciative note, and offers some useful advice for any aspiring performers:
“Learn your craft. Do your homework. Opportunity will come along when you least expect it. … Your job is to be as ready as possible when that good fortune comes your way.”
If you love Julie Andrews, you will still enjoy all the details of her life post-Mary Poppins. On the other hand, if you’re hoping for a continuation in the tone and energy of the first memoir, you will need a spoonful of sugar to help you through.
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