As oversized as the man who penned it, this 618-page behemoth is so chunky that you could easily use it to drive your enemies before you. (Suggested kiss-off line: “Guess this is your final chapter!”) It’s not the first time Schwarzenegger has pumped ink: his five previous books include the terrifyingly titled Arnold’s Bodyshaping For Women. But this is his big one, a memoir of his life from Austrian Acorn to Austrian Oak. And while it has its problems, the levels of Arnie-osity are pleasingly high.
By page six, recounting his hardscrabble years in the farm village of Thal, he’s remembering the time he got attacked by a cat called Mooki. Not long afterwards, he’s revealing his lifelong fear of goblins (!) and early seduction technique (lake, blanket, wine). This stretch is a lot of fun, not least his tales of insubordination while serving as a tank commander in the Austrian army, and surprisingly detailed. The book is almost at its mid-point before we arrive at his first star vehicle, Conan The Barbarian.
The movie stuff is the reason most people will pick this up, and the sections on his early blockbusters fair drip with juice. He describes the time he came close to bagging Flash Gordon, a quarrel with James Cameron over whether the T-800 should get drunk, and the less than satisfactory conduct of castmates: on Predator, Van Damme was “a relentless complainer”; on Total Recall, Sharon Stone was “a challenge”. Unfortunately, as the years roll on, Schwarzenegger loses interest in his cinematic output and candid gossip turns into production-notes padding. Though, after a passage defending Last Action Hero, he does, in a throwaway line, admit that it was a “fucking stinker”.
One of the surprises is just how blue the book is. Considering his recent political office, it could have turned out as family-friendly bland as Jingle All The Way. Instead, F-bombs explode on almost every page, and it’s littered with sexual shenanigans: a repeated refrain is his fondness for “young sexy girls with bare tits”. There’s no indication that he’s repented for his infidelities, with his dalliances with Brigitte Nielsen and the Guatemalan maid hurried through with a minimum of introspection.
If you’re not won over by his alpha-male screen image, you’ll have a tough time getting through passages such as a spreadsheet listing his humongous salaries per film. But for fans, it’s all part of the bigger-than-life legend. Total Recall feels like unvarnished Arnie — determined to entertain and eye-wideningly candid, particularly when it comes to his formative years.
As a final note, behold the gloriously bizarre photos of him urinating with his children, and kissing wife Maria Shriver while she’s wearing a mask of his face. Who else would include those?
Reviewed by Nick de Semlyen