The thing is, I’m crook. Possibly dying. I may have to speed this up. Suddenly, for the first time in my life, I have time to burn, and time to think. And writing, jotting thoughts and memories down, is a salve. It gets my mind off things.
When Sam Neill was diagnosed with stage III angioimmunoblastic T-cell lymphoma, he used his ‘time to burn’ to write this lovely, gentle memoir. From chapter to chapter he skips around, but basically it’s the story of his life so far. Along the way he talks – this is a very conversational book – about his childhood in Ireland, his parents, grandparents and siblings, his education, the move to New Zealand, schools, first jobs, his progression into film-making and then acting and his long career in film. Interspersed with this personal history and the progress of his cancer are chapters about his loves – wine and wine-making, music, architecture, New Zealand art and artists, friends (he has many), the acting life, Bali, cars, dancing, his children and grandchildren. Lovers and wives and relationships aren’t a big part of this memoir, which makes Neill seem decently reticent about his private life. A gentleman.
He’s a modest man, too. He’s been a working actor for around 40 years, starting with My Brilliant Career; he’s made some amazing artistic films like The Piano and some money-spinning blockbusters like the Jurassic Parks movies. But there is only a little showbiz gossip, though quite a few funny stories and a few tart comments about actors who behave badly. He loves and admires women – there is a whole chapter titled ‘Women Are Better’ – and has nothing but praise and admiration for nearly all of the female actors he’s worked with.
With the dire state of the world preying on my mind – an old friend used the phrase ‘shit and desecration ‘ – and a knee injury keeping me from my ‘happy place’ (the garden) I’m looking for books that aren’t going to make me feel any worse. This memoir made me feel better. A companionable chat with (Sir) Sam, who is warm and funny, with a soft heart and feet on the ground, has been a real pleasure.
He writes towards the end of the book that though he’s not scared of death, he’d rather live. And he will. He’s in remission. What a sweet way to end.