THE LOVE OF MY WEEK: LIFE! DEATH! PRIZES!
I try to behave in an age-appropriate manner and limit falling in love to just once a week. This week I had already formed a meaningful relationship with my new and powerful stick blender. It had allowed me to produce oceans of silky smooth soups. This one was a stayer, I thought in mid-passion.
However, then I read Life! Death! Prizes! By Stephen May and fell deeply in love with a nineteen year old boy who is not house trained, who tends to watch pornography late at night and do what nineteen year old boys do at such times, and feed is much younger brother junk food.
Before Outraged of Beecroft picks up her fountain pen to write a scathing denunciation of my cougarish tendencies, let me assure her that Billy is a fictional character in this wonderful novel. He tells us that his mother’s funeral was awful, especially because her death had elements of dreadful farce: she had been protecting her new laptop from an opportunistic thief in a car park and, while grappling with the desperate boy, she fell and hit her head on a concrete barrier. After the funeral, there is much debate about the future of the magical Oscar who quite likes all the junk food, and who most definitely wants to stay with is half- brother.
However, well -meaning and brilliantly satirised social workers, Billy and Oscar’s aunt and even Oscar’s long disappeared father want what is “best” for Oscar. Billy’s attempts to prove he is a worthy care-giver usually end in disaster just like his passionate but fairly unilateral relationship with an attractive but usually attached teacher. Bill’sy friends do try to comfort him but most of the comfort involves smoking noxious substances and putting large, nineteen year old feet on the furniture while watching the wrong kind of television.
Billy knows he has an academic future because he has already been accepted at university but has taken a gap year which is now sadly busy. The most horrifying thing for Billy, however, is also the most secret. His mother’s killer, Aidan Jebb, visits him when he is alone. No one else can see Aidan but Billy becomes more and more convinced of the reality of Aidan’s presence as the custody battle becomes more intense. When Billy loses in court, he begins to enter his personal hell of loss and isolation.
However, Stephen May is both a skilled and compassionate writer. The resolution is typically slightly unconventional but very satisfying for us and Billy. May has given Billy a poetic voice. At one stage of the book, Billy describes the intrusive eyes of Aidan as being “little septic rubies.” That kept me entranced far longer than any silky soup has done.
This is a book that will be on the topmost shelf of the Magic Cupboard because Billy is a completely frank narrator, and some of his moments with Lucy, the wayward teacher, are quite graphically detailed. However, Billy is also a boy who loves fiercely and his protection of Oscar is heart melting. So I will lend the book to some of my senior students who will giggle at some parts but, like me, weep at the poignancy of others.
Review by Suzanne O’Connor
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