Its a bit of a departure for me to review a subject that is not strictly musical; although author Nick Barrett (not to be confused with his namesake in Prog-Rockers Pendragon), is a bit of a muso himself (he was round my place the other day strumming through some old Rush songs on my acoustic), and he did once bash the skins for a certain well-known Canadian Blues-Rock guitarist, as well as other groups, so I guess that loosely qualifies his book’s inclusion here!
I have known Nick for some time. Michaelmas Term: Or – Why Is That Boy Naked? is his debut novel, and is, he told me, 70% based on his own experiences at school – so it is semi-autobiographical. It tells the story of Nicky, an eleven year old who wins a scholarship to the posh St Onan’s Academy… and yes, the book is a comedy! But to say that is an understatement… it is hilarious! I began reading it the day that Nick handed me an autographed copy, and I couldn’t put it down – except to periodically laugh aloud!
The book’s characters – all based on real people – are as large as life, and described so well. Look out for the ageing alcoholic teacher Mr. Matthews-elah; the haunted theology master, the Rev. Felchingham; the modern artist Mr.Japsai; and magnificently named art master, Mr. Bell-Enderby (I’m sure we all know a few blokes with that sobriquet?) A real-life mutual friend of Nick and myself and fellow writer Steve ‘Loopy’ Newhouse (see my review #131) is also immortalised in the book as the school’s music teacher. We are told that the pupils of this ancient seat of learning – the Onanists – have been ‘buffing their helmets’ since the Middle Ages; and that the school hymn proclaims that ‘Onanists will take themselves in hand’! (To get most pleasure out of this for oneself, you need to know what onanism is!)
It is not primarily of a musical theme; but there are however, numerous musical references within the pages. For example, in his first latin lesson at St Onan’s, Nicky learns that pro bono is not the singer of U2! And in his first history class, that El Dorado is not a song by The Eagles! This may give you a taste of the humour within; but I’ll say no more.
This book is a seriously good read. It is bizarre, irreverent – and a bloody good laugh! I’m recommending it highly. Nick has a sequel ready for publishing, and two further volumes in the pipeline – as well as a thriller in the making. If this debut is a sample of his work, he has an illustrious future ahead of him. He has already been favourably compared to Terry Pratchett and Tom Sharp. If you like clever word-play; subtly hidden innuendos; or just a damn good laugh, then buy it! Definitely one for the Christmas stocking. It is available from Amazon. PTMQ.