#276 A Boy’s Own Story

Edmund White is an author I hadn’t heard of before – the common thread between my last few posts is that all the authors have surnames at the latter end of the alphabet (because I used the back entrance of the library) but I was pleased to have picked this up. Another similarity between all my recent reads is their length: perfect for commuting (not too lengthy or heavy).

A Boy’s Own Story is a partially autobiographical tale of the anonymous narrator (I don’t think his name was ever given but I suppose we could call him Edmund)’s childhood – as suggested by the title – although it’s not what I’d call an ordinary childhood. The book begins with an early sexual experience with a slightly younger boy: the plot is not chronological but in this episode Edmund has no doubt as to his sexuality, whereas at other points he visits a priest and an analyst (who charges an exuberant fee to tell Edmund his own problems, largely refusing to listen to the boy, which is comically ironic) in what I suppose are half-hearted attempts to “cure” himself. While some of the problems Edmund encounters are fairly standard (moving schools, making friends, trying to win father’s affection) they’re intertwined with the extraordinary – perhaps cumulating in his seduction (I think that’s too strong of a word for it but I’m not sure how else to describe it right now) of a teacher who he subsequently has dismissed (in fact he orchestrates the dismissal just before the affair).

I thought this was very well written: the combination of ordinary and outlandish told in the same matter of fact vernacular make the plot engaging and interesting – the sleeve of the book this time compared it to Catcher in the Rye, and I would say that that connection is fairly weak because here our narrator doesn’t seem lost or wandering – although the geography of the novel does move around quite a bit.

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