Why do you read an autobiography? For me, it comes down to two reasons. First, the author might have lived at the center of history or in unusual circumstances, and I’m fascinated by her perspective. The other reason is that the author’s life and the way it’s told simply make a good story. This kind of autobiography travels an arc and gives the reader nuggets of life's truth that resonate. Jo Malone: My Story offers us tastes from both of these categories, but, ultimately, feels like a PR job about a really nice, entrepreneurial woman, someone I’d love to know, but no one I need to read a whole book about.
Jo Malone: My Story is written in a clear, approachable way with a taste of the British working girl about it. The book covers Malone’s childhood with an aesthetician mother and gambler father; shows Malone giving facials in her home and building her clientele; follows her through breast cancer; covers the launch of Jo Malone London and its sale to Estée Lauder; and ends with her new brand, Jo Loves.
So, let’s go back to the two reasons that make an autobiography compelling: circumstances and story. For circumstances, Jo Malone was the CEO of a successful company and launched another company. She was recognized by the queen. She was raised in a working class family and did her part to keep the family afloat. She had celebrity clients. In short, her circumstances are interesting if you’re part of her circle, but not especially unusual. Plus, gossip seekers will want to go elsewhere. No juicy bits here.
Now, for story. An engaging story pulls me into someone’s — fictional or real — life. It comforts me by showing aspects of life I’ve experienced, letting me relive them or reminding me I’m not alone. Or it unpacks emotion-rich situations I haven’t lived and gives me new understanding. A good story rings with truth.
Malone’s recounting of her bout with breast cancer does show this truth. She’s open about her fear and unreasonableness, and about her gratitude and endurance. It still feels a shade removed, but I think cancer survivors and their families will appreciate these chapters. Another super short, but touching chapter recounts her confusing feeling after giving birth. For the most part, though, Malone doesn’t let the reader in. We’re not confidants.
“Enough!” some of you are saying. “What about perfume?” Malone spends a paragraph, tops, explaining how evaluators provide the link between a nose and a client, and she’s not specific about it, but you understand that she conceives a fragrance, but a perfumer designs it. She doesn’t name the noses she’s worked with.
She also talks about Estée Lauder’s acquisition of Jo Malone London. (Pomegranate Noir was the last fragrance Malone created for the line.) According to the book, it was a dreamy transition and Evelyn Lauder was the ideal business partner and a solid friend. Malone’s contract with Estée Lauder specified that she had to wait five years before heading another brand. This explains the wait for Jo Loves.
Finally, Jo Malone: My Life contains a page scented with Jo Loves Pomelo, and it smells good, with a flavor of an old-fashioned chypre. I’m going to hunt down a sample.
Do you read autobiographies? Are there any you’d recommend?
Jo Malone: My Story (Simon & Schuster, 2016; 416 pages) is $27 for the Hardcover (currently discounted to $18.49 at Amazon). The Kindle version is $12.99.