The Wrong Boy by Willy Russell

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The Wrong Boy by Willy Russell

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Category: General Fiction
Rating: 5/5
Reviewer: Jason Mark Curley
Reviewed by Jason Mark Curley
Summary: The first novel from the man whose Sirley Valentine and Educating Rita you're bound to know. Thought-provoking and howlingly funny it's highly recommended by The Bookbag.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 506 Date: July 2001
Publisher: Black Swan
External links: Author's website
ISBN: 978-0552996457

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Raymond Marks, a nineteen year-old closet intellectual and social misfit, has been forced to leave home to take up a job as a labourer. His story is written in a series of letters to his hero, Morrissey in the book he uses to write down his lyrics and poems. Just with these few details we begin to get an idea of who Raymond is.

Right from the start, we are dealing with two separate plots: the situation which Raymond is going through now (having to hitch-hike to Grimsby to take up a job he never wanted) and the funny, brutal and tragic details of his past that have brought him to where he is. Of course, the genius of this story is how these two plots intertwine and ultimately resolve one another.

While he is waiting for the police, after being caught trying to board a train without buying a ticket at Halifax Station, he explains that none of this would have happened if it weren't for the scandal of the Transvestite Nativity Play, which happened while he was at junior school. That entire fiasco caused Mr Kerney (a freethinking, liberal headmaster), to be ousted, and when the flytrapping craze (a sport involving catching as many flies as possible on the banks of the Rochdale Canal, using a very delicate part of the male anatomy) is exposed, Raymond is singled out by the new headmaster as a pervert and is expelled.

His life goes rapidly downhill from here. He suffers almost complete exclusion from the world around him. This is what makes the journey in the present narrative so engaging: Raymond is an outsider who's been forced back into the real world, making judgements on everything he sees around him from an incorruptible perspective. Much of the comedy stems from close observation of real life through the analytical, but unworldly, eyes of Raymond.

Russell's close attention to the details of his characters make them fly off the pages. I challenge anyone reading this novel not to fall in love with his gran: the only character to continually stick up for the much misunderstood Raymond. Anyone who chooses, Glad That I Live Am I, and, Oh Happy Day, as the funeral songs her sleazy and adulterous husband is right up there in my book. Other characters are superb: his mother, who is constantly worried he has inherited his father's mental illness; his uncle, who just wants to get him as far away as possible; and his two best friends, who I won't even name as it will give away a fantastic surprise.

This book grabbed me from the start and had an absolutely unputdownable quality. Raymond appeals to me as a character because he feels out of place with the world; the journey he takes provides him the direction he needs. As a reader I couldn't help but cheer for him the entire way though. The way all the plot points converge and are resolved by the end of the novel is as clever as it is satisfying. It's filled with memorable incidents told in the funniest way possible, and has plenty of characters you'll want to go back and visit again.

I have to apologise to the people on the London to Durham train for my constant howling with tears and laughter while I was reading this book. They must have thought I was some kind of maniac. This reaction wouldn't have been too surprising if they spotted the author. Willy Russell has this ability to bring characters so very close to us, by showing us how similar we really are. When we laugh with them we gut laugh, when we cry with them we sob; Blood Brothers had exactly the same effect on me.

There have been persistent rumours of a TV serialisation - it's briefly mentioned on his website. Don't wait for it though, go out and treat yourself to a date with The Wrong Boy. If you're familiar with the other work of the author, you won't need to be told twice. That's the one disappointment of this book, to date it's his only novel; I have to ask, why?

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Buy The Wrong Boy by Willy Russell at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy The Wrong Boy by Willy Russell at


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