The undoubted charm of the obsessed and the shy
Nathan Penlington is a poet, magician, writer, comedian and performance artist. He also suffered prolonged ill-health as a child, and has an introspective nature prone to obsession. Perhaps, or perhaps not, caused as a reaction to months off school, away from normal peer socialisation
“Depression could be understood as stemming from a feeling of lack of control and obsession as about regaining control over your environment. For me obsession was a preventative cure that has since become a personality trait”
He is also a compulsive collector – whether of facts or objects. As a child, he amassed, as children often do, various collections. One of these was a series of interactive books by Edward Packard called Choose Your Own Adventure Books, where the reader has the choice of a multiplicity of outcomes, leading to further choices and more.
As an adult in his late 20s, briefly living back at his parents home after a relationship break-up, Penlington buys a collection of 106 of these from eBay, revisiting his childhood. He discovers parts of a diary in the pages of one of the books, kept by the then owner, a boy called Terence Prendergast.
Some years pass, and Penlington becomes obsessed with tracking down the original owner of those books and the diary.
This book is about that search, and also about the performance piece he and others created about the search, and about the ‘Choose Your Own……’ making it an interactive piece for the audience, depending on their choices. This show won a Fringe First award, was highly praised, and Penlington has toured it more widely.
All the above is just the bare facts, but can’t begin to describe the hilarious, heart-catching, intelligent, compulsive, absorbing, tender, painful, enchanting mix of this book.
Questions and doubts occurred to me as I read, and may occur to other readers, but I can’t even voice them, because they would/might interfere with your own journey through this delightful mix-up, often darting down side-trails, journey of a book. Anyway, Penlington will answer your questions in the fullness of time.
Along the journey you will be exposed to never-sent love letters written by Nathan Penlington to a girl he had a hopeless crush on, when he was 11. Girls (and boys) might cry with a mix of laughter and Awwwwwwwwwwww at the letter. You will meet a chatty graphologist, psychologists specialising in children, the author of those books, a band of middle aged men who still play Dungeons and Dragons in a shop in Birmingham, presided over by the owner, who perches, cross legged and magus like, on his counter. You will get a blow by blow account of films you never wanted to watch but might now feel curious about. You will get to know some of Nathan’s other obsessions – including Uri Geller. Thrill to the emails of a German Heavy Metal band called Prendergast, contemplate booking a retreat in the Prendergast Caravan park, out of season, follow the trail to Kerrang! Radio DJ Johnny Doom, wonder about the curious disappearance of a photo of astrologer Russell Grant, and more…….
Penlington is quite odd, very charming and weirdly funny
He bares his tender heart, his inquiring mind, his sense of playfulness, self-mockery and his interest in EVERYTHING. You, like the author himself, will absolutely get caught up in the fascination of the quest to find Terence. Does he? Will he? What happens? Why does it take so long for Nathan to decide on the journey at all? Why did he do it? Would you? The book makes the reader ask the questions you might be burning to utter, if you knew Nathan. And Terence. As you will feel you do.
You will also be determined to go and see the show, which, if the book is anything to go by, will bring tears to your eyes as you howl with self-mocking laughter, recognising aspects of your own, weird, quirky, individual humanity.
The You Tube link is a trailer of the show before its Edinburgh dates last summer, but a visit to the website, below, will give you the 2014 dates which are to come
I now need to see if I can track down what the remarkably thrashy and ear-blasting Prendergast band sounded like. Maybe not, I can tell from the lyrics to one song this is not going to be my kind of music.
You can visit chooseyourowndocumentary.com website to find out more.
A lovely and life affirming, questy experience!
The book will be published on 22nd May – I gratefully received it as an ARC from the publishers via NetGalley. Early posting of the review means you can go and check if the show is coming to a venue near you between now and then!
The Boy In The Book Amazon UK
The Boy In The Book Amazon USA