Paperboy by Christopher Fowler

I have to confess that I have never read any of Christopher Fowler’s fiction. His early books didn’t appeal; his Bryant & May series sounds wonderful, but I haven’t quite got to it yet. So when I saw the man’s name on the literary fiction bookshelf in the library, I picked the book up out of general curiosity, just to see what it was about. I didn’t mean to borrow it, but as I scanned the early pages a few simple sentences caught my eye.

“My bedroom was filled with reading material: books salvaged from dustbins, books borrowed from friends, books with missing pages, books found in the street, abandoned, unreadable, torn, scribbled on, unloved, unwanted and dismissed. My bedroom was the Battersea Dogs Home of books.”

With that I stopped thinking of Christopher Fowler as a to be read author and started thinking of him as a fellow book lover. The book came home, and I’m very glad that it did.

At the heart of Paperboy is a boy growing up in a London suburb in the fifties and sixties. It’s not a world I remember, but the book brings it life beautifully.

And then there’s the family. Dysfunctional is probably the word, though it doesn’t suit the period. His mother struggles to hold the family together, while his father was clearly troubled and difficult to live with.   

And so young Christopher finds an escape route courtesy of the written word. First comics, then an assortment of books, until he discovers the boundless possibilities of public libraries.

His father will never understand Christopher, but fortunately his mother does, and gently encourages his reading and writing aspirations.

It’s a simple story, in many ways an unremarkable story, and yet it’s a story that comes completely to life because it is so perfectly observed and so packed with wonderful details. And all considered with warmth, wit, intelligence and a distinctive point of view.

I’d love to share every detail but I can’t , so let’s pick a few pages at random:

  • The futility of exam questions.
  • His mother’s list of favourite authors.
  • The joy of a new comic and a bar of chocolate.
  • The arrival of Doctor Who.
  • Reasons why the era of swinging London began in 1960.
  • Caravan holidays.
  • The gap between British and Hollywood cinema.

Yes, all of the details that illuminated a young life are here.

This is a book that you’ll want to read from cover to cover, but it’s also a book you can dip into and enjoy a few pages at a time

I’m very sorry that I shall have to give this one back to the library.

15 responses

  1. I have also read this book some time ago and enjoyed it very much, because growing up during the same period of time I could associate with lots of the things mentioned.

    • I’m a good few years younger, but a lot of the things mentioned still rang bells. But this is one of those books that I think would work even if most of the references passed you by, because the spirit behind them is so wonderful.

    • It is a lovley memoir. And I shall definitely be ordering the first Bryant & May once my current library ordering embargo finishes.

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