Have you ever read a book that made you howl in laughter? Have your eyes nearly popped wide open because of a clever plot twist? Have you ever decided to pause halfway through the chapters because you’re in denial that the book is nearing its end? Have you ever finished a story and immediately wished you could hug the fictional protagonist after the last page?
I say yes to all of the above, thanks to Willy Russell’s stunning first novel—The Wrong Boy—which is in every way, unforgettable. Written in the form of confessional letters and journal entries by 19-year old Raymond James Marks to his idol, Morrissey, this novel is in equal parts hilarious and heartbreaking; It’s sad, sweet, shocking and satisfying, which basically means it easily made its way to my lists of all-time favourite books ever and, well—straight inside my dorky reader-heart.
The Wrong Boy’s plot is engaging enough to keep a reader leafing like mad through its witty and dark dialogue: it is a comic, coming-of age odyssey of a misunderstood teenage intellectual and die-hard Smiths fan, his painfully erratic past and his troublesome present state. Raymond, the book’s hero, chronicles his alternating (and almost never-ending) dilemmas with lots of heart and humour, evident in his laugh-out-loud narrative both in prose and poetry.
Like an intelligent teenage sitcom gone haywire, the book is filled with crazy turn of events which unsurprisingly heaved greater havoc in Raymond’s life. We get unusual ones, like the Transvestite Nativity Play Scandal in his early school years, to his accidental discovery of the flytrapping craze and his eventual expulsion. But we also get dark, disturbing themes like his having linked with the rape of a neighbourhood girl, his parent’s weird love affairs, and his admission to a mental facility. And he oh-so-beautifully captured each of these life-altering changes with such profound reflections and child-like honesty that you can’t help but love him so. The book is a screaming testament that a painful childhood is indeed the best preparation in the making of a wonderful writer.
Aside from the extraordinary detail given in Raymond’s persona, the other characters also shined with their individual oddities. From his always-anxious mother Shelagh, his cool grandmother aptly named Winnie, his best friends Twinky and Norman, and well, the Girl with the Chestnut Eyes. Raymond never met Morrissey but he was omnipresent in all of his stories that it’s impossible not to mention him. There’s a sad bit towards the end that just wrenched my heart open, I felt so strongly the need to quote it:
“Morrissey, I’m all right on my own. I don’t even mind being on my own. But I never wanted to be on my own. That was just how it turned out. And I tried to make the best out of it. You helped me with that, Morrissey. You made it seem all right, feeling lonely. And it was, in a way, it was all right being lonely and misunderstood, because I had my love of you and everything that went with that, all the records and posters and videos and all the mementoes and memorabilia. I had all of that.
But sometimes I find myself thinking about the future, Morrissey. And that’s when I’d get frightened. Because it’s all right being a bit lonely when you’re only nineteen and you can wear all that loneliness like it’s cool and defiant and a bit mysterious; like it’s something you’ve chosen. But when you’re not nineteen anymore, Morrissey, when you’ve ended up older and you’re still sitting there in your room, on your own, with a brilliant collection of Smiths and Morrissey memorabilia, what then? I’ve seen them, Morrissey, when I’ve been at conventions and all the fans have been gathered to wallow in all the wonderfulness of you and the Smiths, I’ve seen them, the older fans, the ones who were probably fans right back at the beginning…..
And do you know what occurred to me, Morrissey? What occurred to me is that you must despise them—fans like that. Fans so devoted that they became trapped inside their devotion, imprisoned by their idolatry; those who clung onto worship because they were afraid to let go; in case they discovered that outside of you, Morrissey, and beyond the bedrooms of their own minds, they didn’t exist. Which is why they are still there, at all the concerts and conventions, with all the right books and rare records and attitudes, all the right facts, dates and figures, discographies, bios and trivia and Morrissey-lore.; those who adore you for just a little too long, Morrissey; those whose love is so needy that it blinds them to that look in your eyes, Morrissey; that look of pained contempt.
And that’s why you have to understand, Morrissey, that I’ve not done all this just for myself; I’m doing it for you as well, Morrissey. Because I promised that I would never ever do that to you; never grow into the sort of fan whom you would have to despise. So it’s for both of us, Morrissey, me and you.”
Imagine all this goodness in every page, and it’s likely you can perceive a better picture of how precious this book is for me. The Wrong Boy is unflinchingly one of the most moving novels you will ever read, and this is all due to Willy Russell’s genius, a writer I now look up to with such great respect and gratitude.
Honestly, I feel stuttering just like Raymond, because there are simply no words enough to articulate how much of an experience reading this book have been for me—I love, love, love the Wrong Boy for all the right reasons! ♥