First, a confession: I haven't read any of Christopher Fowler's fiction except for an aborted attempt at reading Spanky several years ago. However, his fascinating `Forgotten Authors' columns in one of the Sunday newspapers is one of the week's reading highlights for me. Or perhaps I should say "was" as it seems to have disappeared of late. Sigh. `Paperboy' is his memoir of his early life.
The awkwardness of youth spills onto the pages as the bookish young Christopher finds sanctuary in the local library while his father indulges his own obsession with home improvements. Unfortunately, these DIY projects have more "disaster" about them than "do". Christopher's passion for reading and writing is tolerated up to point. However, the discovery of a book of poetry in his possession incites his father to an explosion of rage that culminates in a shocking act of vandalism.
`Paperboy' is a wittily intelligent book. The writing is wonderfully evocative and the nostalgia factor alone should engage the attention of the (British) baby-boom generation. When the author referred to the horse racing game `Escaldo', I had a "lump in the throat" moment. I played with that game for hours and hours as a child, but I haven't thought about it for years: the course that vibrated at the turn of a handle producing a clackety-clack noise causing the metal horses to move forwards (or sideways, or into each other producing racehorse carnage). Happy times!
Most cultural references are given explanatory footnotes along with some helpfully wry comments. For example, the author explains that his Letts Schoolboy Diary "Listed important calendar dates like `Public Holiday in Tonga'".
But the humour is frequently overshadowed by a home life that seems quite claustrophobic, and the generation gap seems to cause a deal of confusion between father and son. Their lack of understanding is probably not unique, but their relationship, and those of mother and son, and mother and father are given the "warts-and-all" treatment.
Having enjoyed this book so much, I suppose I should have another go at Mr. Fowler's fiction. I wonder if I still have that copy of `Spanky' lurking about somewhere.