Whilst browsing the books at my local Poundland this leapt out at me. It wasn’t because it was a rare novel sat amongst the biographies of people you’ve never heard of or dodgy diet and exercise books but because the above title recommendation came from that well known literary critic Kylie Minogue. She states;
“I laughed out loud. Terry’s humour translates perfectly to the page and his book is a joy.”
Well, anything that’s good enough for the pint-sized Antipodean goddess is good enough for me to spend a pound on. It turns out that the author, an ex 1980’s pop star with hits in Europe, is a big pal of the Minogue sisters and was even a guest judge with Dannii in the judge’s houses section a few years back on X Factor (even though I must have watched this I do not remember this event). But does his debut novel have the X Factor?
The answer is, yes. It certainly scores high on entertainment. Kylie laughed out loud and so did I, quite a few times. Ronald takes us to East Dulwich, in the late 1970’s. Fifteen year old David Starr auditions for a part in the school production of Lionel Bart’s “Oliver!” and with only a smattering of girls in his school’s sixth form there’s no prizes for guessing the part that David is cast as. David had only auditioned because he was required to take up an after-school activity and his previous membership of the Debating Society;
“ended up with just me and the girl in the Upper Sixth in thick glasses shouting at one another in the library about which one of Charlie’s Angels, we felt, had the most intellectual wherewithal and which one wore the nicest tops. So that was the end of that.”
To further cement his confusion about his unexpected casting decision he realises that he has fallen for the new boy in school, sports-loving Maxie who has been cast as Bill Sikes. Ronald has produced a book which is in turns sweet, romantic, coarse, gritty, tragic and funny. What more could you ask for?
I did feel at times it had the feel of Jonathan Harvey’s marvellous play (later a film) “Beautiful Thing” but this may be only because of the dynamics between the two lead characters as the book does very much have a life all of its own. There’s a good set of characters and as might be expected from a novel about teenagers in the 1970’s lots of appropriate cultural references which will make readers of a certain age go glassy-eyed with nostalgia. There’s also a lot of Debbie Harry and Abba. The late 70’s in the London area saw a confusing time where a Ska revival was being adopted by the National Front, who saw only the short haircuts and not the multi-cultural message of the music. There was also dilemma in secondary schools with the combination of the formal traditional teacher, not interested in the well being of the pupil and the more left-wing rebellious teachers who had qualified in a more liberal environment and wanted to befriend and socialise with the children. There’s potential disaster on both sides for the unsuspecting adolescent.
Terry Ronald does a very good job at portraying a teenager coming to terms with sexuality in a world that feels scary and unjust. Older readers should read this for the blasts from the past and younger readers to appreciate just how much the world has moved on.
In 2014 it was announced that a stage musical version of this novel was in production. Read the book first!
“Becoming Nancy” was published in 2011 by Corgi