“Remember You’re a One-Ball!”
By Quentin S. Crisp
Chomu Press, May 2010
This bleak and beautiful book casts quite an excoriating stare at what the author’s protagonist thinks of as the obscene human drama.
Yes, ‘excoriating’, that might be the word for it.
We follow Ramsey S. Blake, a chap who has just qualified as a teacher, as he takes a job in a primary school he’d previously attended as a pupil. In time he comes to a realization, not to say a revelation. By putting two and two together, and sussing out his ABCs, he uncovers a system of bullying and intimidation that extends throughout past pupils’ adult lives. It gets worse, actually. For he learns that he himself was a candidate for such treatment, but another lad got the nod in his stead; which is how, incidentally, the boy Perec escaped deportation to the death camps.
It’s one of a kind, this work. Imagine a story written by a ghost, ‘a fugitive from all things’ (10), who comes to accept with something like solace – but with dollops of doubt and consternation also – a view of the world that has cruelty at its very root. Do that and you’ll have an inkling of the nihilistic power inherent in Crisp’s brilliant novel. You could read it as Ramsey’s confessional, a spiritual autobiography albeit one where evil triumphs and the bullies always win. As Ramsey comes to learn, ‘revenge is impossible’ (114). Even living well doesn’t seem to work; it is cold comfort.
You wouldn’t describe Crisp’s novel as dark exactly, because its world is so recognisable and, well, English and grey. Every day seems like Sunday or a school day. Just a word of warning, though, to let you know what you’re in for: where some writers proceed carefully and with caution, Crisp unflinchingly strides on ahead. Crisp strides on without a safety net (OK, that doesn’t make much sense) and burns his bridges as he goes (which makes some sense, provided there are rivers and streams where he is striding). He is a dangerous writer and you feel that this novel has been written at some personal risk. However, any danger must surely extend (and why should this come as a surprise?) to his readers also. You’ve been warned.
This is one of the few novels that deserve to be called brave; Crisp should get a medal for it. But only professional murderers get medals for bravery in this world.