There are some utterly chilling passages in Mara Wilson’s book, Where Am I Now? True Stories Of Girlhood And Accidental Fame. The tome is Wilson’s memoir of sorts, collected in chapters where she deals with certain topics that have been pertinent throughout her 29 years. As it turns out, there are lots and lots of pertinent topics, and a sense at the heart of it of someone who’s clung onto her humanity and moral compass, in the face of at-times mind-boggling difficulties.
Furthermore, it’s clear that Wilson is very much the author here. There’s a craft and care in her words, and a voice that comes through, that displays a very enviable talent for getting what’s in her head compellingly onto the page.
Wilson sprung to fame when she wasn’t even 10 years old, off the back of films such as Mrs Doubtfire and – of course – Matilda. She talks about those times, sharing moments such as asking Doubtfire director Chris Columbus with alarming regularity as to when he’s going to conquer America, and her time in the company of Robin Williams. And she takes us through effectively her falling out of love with high profile acting roles, along with them falling out with her. There’s a moment she describes on the set of Thomas And The Magic Railroad, where the director took her aside to talk about her naturally growing up because it was affecting the work, that I couldn’t help but wonder how someone actually processes that.
Not that such moments have been confined to Wilson’s childhood and teenage years. Perhaps the most chilling passage here, haunting in its matter-of-factness really, is where she recalls the time when she saw on the internet a list of ‘ugliest former child actors’. On this one particular occasion, she decided to get in touch with the author, to ask why she “punished other women for the way they look”. The author of said piece replied that she was sorry, but that “I write stupid things on the internet to pay the bills. I can’t afford integrity”.
There are many moments I found reading Wilson’s book that stopped me in my tracks. A few times out of shock at the sheer unpleasantness of people, a few times as tears welled up in my eyes when she talked about the loss of her mother, a compelling reminder that no matter how much someone is in the public eye, you only – rightfully – know a fraction of their story. And then a few too as Wilson describes essentially how she found the person she wanted to be, and how that countered with the impression people sustained due to her early acting work.
For all the moments I’ve described above, this isn’t a downbeat book. It’s not always an easy one to read (and there’s a real sense it’s not been an easy life to live), but there’s richness, and humanity, and an awful lot of wit. I tore through it in one or two sittings, and found myself rooting for Wilson in little time. And her dad, too.
Mara Wilson is a beautiful writer, a natural storyteller, and Where Am I Now? is a testament to that. There are inevitable comparisons being drawn by algorithm-driven online shopping stores with books by Amy Schumer and Lena Dunham. Let’s face it, too: that’s an impressive basket to take out of the book shop. But it’s an imperfect Venn diagram. Wilson has different stories to tell, different ways of telling them, and a warm, inclusive way of writing that makes this one of the best books I’ve read this year.
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