Book Review: A Mootiful Life

When a memoir is not a memoir
December 29, 2021 Updated: December 31, 2021


A memoir is supposed to be an accurate description of events that happened in the life of its author. However, it is not unusual to accuse the author of making up events to embellish his or her narrative.

One website warned that memoirs could end up like a novel “with all the made-up parts left out”—it can fail to impress sometimes because it is either a novel in disguise, an autobiography, or even an academic text.

Earlier this year, the memoir of celebrity chef Jock Zonfrillo, “Last Shot,” was heavily criticised because people who featured in the narrated events or traversed the life of the author, disagreed with his version of the narrative.

Thus, a stoush—sometimes evolving into a real conflict situation—between the author of a “memoir” and those who are described in it, is always a real possibility.

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Lauren Zonfrillo and Jock Zonfrillo arrive at Lexus Melbourne Cup Day at Flemington Racecourse in Melbourne, Australia, on Nov. 5, 2019. (Sam Tabone/Getty Images for Uber)

Authors who fail to understand the differences between a memoir, autobiography, novel, or an academic text can create problems in their writing, that could in turn, confuse critics and book reviewers.

A Mootiful Life” by Vernon Nase vividly exemplifies this issue.

The book, published in November 2020, is marketed as a “novel.” It deals with the wondrous and demanding world of “mooting,” which involves students taking part in a mock trial presenting legal arguments for a fictional client.

It is a highly regarded academic activity in the United States, Australia, and England, and aims to improve the advocacy skills of mainly, but not exclusively, law students.

Although the average person would have little knowledge of mooting, it is a major and lucrative enterprise, which can lift the reputation of registered law schools and also facilitate the employment prospects of students.

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University students participate in a mock trial at the Gwangju District Court in Gwangju, South Korea, on July 23, 2015. (AAP image/Yonhap)

Anthony E Cassimatis and Peter Billings, in their Thomson Reuters’ Guide to Mooting, note that mooting exercises in the United Kingdom “began to be used as a serious form of legal education in the Inns of Court in London by about the 14th Century.”

In embracing this form of education, students learn to master a particular area of the law in detail, they learn to present an argument before a panel, work together harmoniously, and have fun—which is ultimately what education should or could be.

Further, mooting serves the interests of a free and democratic society where impartial arbiters are often needed to settle conflicts. Indeed, in a totalitarian society, advocates are dispensable because they are expected to be loyal servants of the ruling regime.

For example, in totalitarian Germany in the 1930s and 40s, Adolf Hitler despised lawyers.

According to the German leader, “the health of the German nation” was “more important than the letter of the law.” He did not think much of lawyers, believing they were “men deficient by nature or deformed by experience.” In 1942, Hitler revealed his desire to “make every German realize that it is a disgrace to be a lawyer.”

“A Mootiful Life” meanwhile, offers a curious mixture of memoir, autobiography, novel, and academic text.

Staff and former students at the University of Queensland Law School, Murdoch University School of Law, and City University of Hong Kong Law School would immediately recognise the identities of the protagonists of the book.

Considering that the book—marketed as a novel—is a memoir in disguise, the protagonists, who are so easily identifiable, may regard the description of their character offensive and defamatory. Further, the book could also be viewed as an autobiography because the author describes his trajectory as a legal academic in three institutions.

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Front entrance to the University of Queensland in Brisbane, Australia, on Jan. 12, 2021. (Daniel Teng/The Epoch Times)

“A Mootiful Life” does make for an interesting read, especially for those who collaborated with the author at these universities; for them, the book has curiosity value.

However, the inability of the author to decide on the book’s genre has fatally affected its structure. Indeed, it would help if a reader knew whether the book was a novel, memoir, or academic text etc. Parts of the book certainly read as an academic text, especially when the author recounts the arguments of students in their mooting competitions.

The value of the book lies in its attempt to demystify the world of mooting. However, because of its unclear genre, it is not likely to have wider appeal.

For them, it is a tedious enumeration of vacuous dialogue, interspersed with pontifical advice on how students should behave in a moot.

The dreary account of actual cases the author and students have participated in is not likely to appeal to those who want to read an entertaining novel as opposed to a memoir or autobiography.

Hence, if authors want to make a literary impact, they should avoid including descriptions of events which skirt the edges of defamation and lack elementary civility. But, even more importantly, they should ideally consider the genre of their book before they start writing.

Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.

Gabriël A. Moens AM is an emeritus professor of law at the University of Queensland, and served as pro vice-chancellor and dean at Murdoch University. In 2003, Moens was awarded the Australian Centenary Medal by the prime minister for services to education. He has taught extensively across Australia, Asia, Europe, and the United States. Moens has recently published two novels “A Twisted Choice” (Boolarong Press, 2020) and “The Coincidence” (Connor Court Publishing, 2021).