I knew early on that I would read His Stupid Boyhood. It was fate really. I've followed Peter Goldsworthy for quite some time, many years in fact, although I've only read a couple of his books so far. I remember Jesus Wants Me for a Sunbeam being particularly amazing, but don't think I've read much else til now. Then I saw several rather glowing and intriguing reviews for his new book, a memoir. Once I knew that I would see Peter Goldsworthy (twice) at the Mudgee Readers' Festival in August this year, it was a done deal.
The sessions at Mudgee were everything I hoped them to be. Peter was funny, very funny. The passages he read were captivating. Peter explained that we are all expatriates from the country of our childhood- which is an intriguing way to view your own childhood. It's true, once you emigrate though, you can never really go back. I was astonished at the freedoms Peter enjoyed, he was given a very long leash, a subscription to Scientific American, and various chemicals- a very dangerous combination at times! Naturally I came home from Mudgee clutching my very own copy of His Stupid Boyhood, and recently I got to read it.
Peter Goldsworthy had an interesting childhood. His parents were both teachers and the family moved every two years. Department of Education gypsys, the family moved around Adelaide and South Australia, and to Darwin. Peter attended seven schools, lived in seven homes, and was always moving away from his friends and the familiar. Interesting that he doesn't mention his siblings at all until page 193, and indeed his wife had to point out to him that all the characters in his fiction are only children and that there was no mention of his siblings in his memoir. Which perhaps explains the first paragraph.
We are born narcissists, but most of us grow out of the worst of it by the age of five. I was still going strong at eighteen, which is where this memoir ends; whether I fully grew up after that is another story.
Peter Goldsworthy is older than me, but we shared some features of our Australian childhoods, even separated by several thousand kilometres and more than a decade. I too remember the great influence of the Australian Womens Weekly in broadening our culinary repertoires from the more traditional meat and three veg.
Once a month curried sausages provided a spicy walk on the mild side, at least until the fateful day she discovered a recipe for 'Chinese Mince' in the latest Women's Weekly, and began her long march into the unknown culinary wilds.
We all owe the Weekly a debt of gratitude I suspect. I'm rather curious to seek out the Chinese mince recipe that Peter's mother used, although I'm sure it wouldn't seem as exotic 50 years later.
His Stupid Boyhood is also a memoir of Peter as a reader. Peter's family was never to have a tv.
Dad thought we were better off reading, or listening to music, or playing games, although my mother regularly sneaking into the neighbour's to watch 77 Sunset Strip, sipping sherry and snacking on Sao biscuits with cheese and gherkins.
Perhaps this lack of television, and peripatetic life made Peter the reader he was, which set him on his path to become a doctor and writer. He was a much more erudite reader than I ever was as a child, and I'm sure he still is as an adult. I loved tales of a teenaged Peter swanning about tropical Darwin in a cravat to prove his intellectual state. Today, Peter still combines his work as a GP with his writing. A rather remarkable achievement.
His Stupid Boyhood has also been reviewed at ANZLitlovers.