Homeless people - part of the furniture in the streets of any large city - easy to move around, to ignore, and to have little to wonder about. Generally we don't know why a person becomes a homeless person, and if we care enough to find out, we are presented with what is usually a very complicated and hopeless set of circumstances that make it very easy to turn that blind eye at.
The author, Alexander Masters, started out in life as an academic at Cambridge, studying maths and physics. While studying towards his PhD he started working at a hostel for the homeless in Cambridge. Which led him, eventually, to Stuart. Stuart, aged 33, has had a most unfortunate life, in fact, not much more can go wrong with it really. Diagnosed with muscular dystrophy as a small child then sexually abused regularly from the age of ten, life very quickly spiralled out of control for Stuart. In brief he had been in and out of prison for serious crimes, was a drug addict and alcoholic, lived off and on on the streets, and as a result of all this was not the easiest person to get on with.
But this guy, somehow, got under the skin of the author, because it would seem that Alexander Masters is actually the only person to see Stuart for the human being he is, and to give him a chance to tell his story in the most honest way he can. First draft was rubbish according to Stuart - 'bollocks boring' and Alexander had to write the whole thing again! This book then is as much about the relationship between these two very different men as it is about Stuart himself. As a result we get inside the head and heart of what is an extremely intelligent man, who unfortunately has not really had one good break in life. It must have taken a long time for such an intimate degree of trust on Stuart's part to build up to enable this book to be written.
Masters also has plenty to say, as does Stuart, about the attitude of the state to homeless people, homeless shelters, treatment for drug addicts, treatment for the mentally ill in our society. Basically, it seems no one knows what to do with them, and so nothing gets done.
So...to make the whole thing a 'bestseller' and 'something what people will read' as Stuart wants, Alex decides to tell Stuart's story backwards - gradually stripping away all the bad stuff till we get back to the little boy and what a marvellous little lad he was till everything started to go wrong. Terribly sad - we all start out with such promise and youth and energy. For most people lucky stuff continues to happen, for some, it simply doesn't. And in the process of reading such a biography perhaps we now will look at homeless people on the streets with just a little more compassion and humanity.