Managing Expectations review: Emotionally engaging work

Warm and witty, Minnie Driver establishes her distinct literary voice

Managing Expectations
Author: Minnie Driver
ISBN-13: 978-1786581501
Publisher: Manilla Press
Guideline Price: £20

Minnie Driver’s new book, Managing Expectations, is the latest in a long list of essay collections by celebrities that have been published over the past decade or so. It’s also one of the best. From the very first essay, Surprise, which begins with an enraged nine-year-old Driver being driven back to boarding school against her will after a weekend at home, Driver establishes her distinct literary voice: warm but unsentimental, emotionally insightful, with a strong sense of the absurd.

Driver had an unconventional childhood. There was financial privilege – a nanny in her early years, regular trips to Barbados – but also plenty of emotional instability. Her parents, who separated when she was six, were unmarried; she later discovered that her father was actually married to another woman, with whom he had a child.

Driver’s childhood is the subject of two of the best essays in the book, Surprise and I’m Going to Miami. In the former essay, she describes her exile to boarding school and how a school musical led to her first on-screen appearance; in the latter, which has the cool brilliance of a Lorrie Moore short story, she tells how her father abruptly made her go back to England from Barbados, via Miami, alone at the age of 11. In both, she brilliantly captures her child self’s angry sense of abandonment by both her parents, but presents that rage from the perspective of an adult who has come to terms with those parents’ faults.

Driver is equally adept at exploring the events of her adult life. She writes movingly about the complexities of family, the death of her mother and becoming a mother herself. She writes powerfully and without any self-pity about fame and the unpredictable life of an actor, openly acknowledging the failures and difficult times.

“You don’t just have to win the lottery, you have to keep winning it again and again and again, and who the f**k is going to have that much luck?” And yes, she does write about the break-up with Matt Damon that made her tabloid fodder in the late 1990s. But readers who come to this memoir looking for celebrity gossip will find something much more substantial: an intelligent and emotionally engaging work by a warm and witty writer.