The Boy with the Perpetual Nervousness review – trauma and bravery

Graham Caveney’s big-hearted, free-associating book is by turns angry and analytical. It skewers sentimental cant

Graham Caveney’s enthralling memoir is, in part, about the ambiguous virtues of social mobility. He was born in Accrington in 1964 to a mill worker, Kathleen, and a school groundsman, Jack, neither of whom moved beyond the same four-mile radius all their lives. A bright boy, he won a place at a Catholic grammar school. Like other bright boys of his class and generation, his education came as much through NME and leftwing activism as through his schooling. He went to Warwick University in the early 1980s and embraced the heady abstractions of critical theory, writing academic conference papers on “The Scandalous Mouth of Shane McGowan”. His intellectual journey, like that of Richard Hoggart’s famous scholarship boy, left him feeling semi-liberated but emotionally homeless.

So far, so familiar. But this book is also about something else that hugely enriches it while deeply unsettling the reader. After writing a stellar school essay, Caveney began to be mentored by his headmaster, a cool, charismatic priest everyone called “the Rev Kev”. The Rev paid him to sort through his bookshelves, took him to the theatre to see Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? and had earnest discussions with him about Samuel Beckett. And then he began sexually abusing him.

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September 13th, 2017 by