Monday, 28 February 2022

A teenage boy with raging hormones

The Rachel Papers Charles Highway is a "chinless elitist and bratty whey-faced lordling". He's the protagonist of Martin Amis's The Rachel Papers. His saving grace is that he's young, nineteen going on twenty, and if you can remember how awful you were at his age, you'll be able to laugh at the "devious, calculating, self-obsessed" little twit.

Throughout his teenage years Charles has written copious notes and diary entries, setting down his thoughts on English literature, members of his family, and methods for seducing girls. With just five hours left before he reaches "the end of youth", he reviews his life thus far, and in particular his relationship with Rachel, his 'older woman' by a couple of months.

As one might expect, most of the teenage boy's thoughts turn to drink, drugs, and sex. Everything he does is calculated to make him look good to potential girlfriends, and intelligent to those he seeks to impress. A lot of Charles's exploits have the potential to shock, and some will find him terribly un-PC. However you can't deny that he's exactly what one expects a teenage boy with raging hormones to be like. He describes in great detail his sex life and a dose of STD, but also phlegm, vomit and peeing.

Around the middle of the book the relentless self-centredness becomes tiring, but as The Rachel Papers is a bildungsroman there are a couple of later episodes in which Charles faces up to criticism. Will he finally grow up? It's far from certain. Let's say he's a work in progress and hope that the young man does "a great deal of hard thinking in the next nine or ten months".

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