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The Wrong Boy

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The Wrong Boy

MAIL ON SUNDAY - The Wrong Boy
A first novel from the man who created Shirley Valentine and Educating Rita (not to mention the phenomenally long-running West End hit Blood Brothers) has to be an event.

That Willy Russell has chosen the notoriously difficult epistolary form for his fiction debut seems strange at first, until you think of the letter-chapters as on-stage addresses by the narrator.

Once you 'hear' them as soliloquies, everything falls into place. Beautifully.

Russell's hapless teenage anti-hero, Raymond Marks, writes a series of long letters to his own hero, the cult musician Morrissey, in which he recounts the bizarre, hilarious and terrible story of his life. Raymond grows up in an ordinary Northern town, Failsworth, within an ordinary dysfunctional family, and life might have gone on being boringly normal if it were not for a dirty little fly-trapping game Raymond and his school friends devise on the banks of the canal.

Then Raymond is plunged into the murky waters of apparent abnormality, and swiftly identifies himself as 'the wrong boy' of the title. It's a desperate, poignant metaphor for all those who fail to fit in, and fail and fail again - although their worth may be considerable.

Yes, surely 'Failsworth' is as deliberate as Russell's deceptively light style.

There are sustained set-pieces of such rollicking farce that sometimes it is hard to hold the hefty novel for laughing. Yet if I hail this as a comic masterpiece in the tradition of Sterne's Tristram Shandy - full of diversions in which you meet a set of characters who only occasionally verge on caricature - it is only in the knowledge that the flip side of the truest comedy is always sad.

Raymond Mark's life is full of ordinary tragedies and extraordinary injustices. But Willy Russell's triumph is to have created an unforgettable character, both unique and an Everyman, who suffers (most entertainingly) but is allowed to travel surely towards his own redemption - and so holds out that precious hope that 'everything's gonna be all right' for the rest of us.

Bel Mooney - 29th Oct 2000


Its hard to believe that this is WR first novel: rich in Liverpudlian wit and wisdom, you're in Russell territory from the first line. Told as series of letters to the morose singer-songwriter Morrissey, the story centres around 19-year-old Raymond Marks. His troubles began at the age of 11 when he invented 'flytrapping', a game so ludicrously bizarre that only a child could have conceived it. From then on, it's a downward spiral that includes Transvestite Nativity plays, the defamation of Princess Leia, false accusations of homosexuality and worse. When his gran, his only ally, dies, this sporadic and unlikely road trip begins. In common with all Russell's work, there is a serious core of acute social observation underlying the comedy and Raymond is a real, fallible protagonist who deserves our sympathy even as he inspires our laughter. A must for Russell fans everywhere.

Nov 2000


This haunting debut is a wry tale of accusations and blame, scandals and scapegoats, and the demonisation of an innocent child by a society steeped in self-righteous hypocrisy. Russell delights in his skilful depiction of a child's-eye view. He makes crafty use of literary devices to externalise his protagonists's inner thoughts… The identity of the Girl with the Chestnut Eyes, revealed in the denouement, is too precious to give away, but it leaves you in no doubt that the Wrong Boy is an indictment of an adult world in which misfits and children are stigmatised.

Sarah Willcocks - Nov 2000


There was a time, a full generation ago, when Willy Russell mingled anonymously with Liverpool theatregoers. But literary sainthood has a price and does away with privacy.

Last night's capacity audience to hear the Blood Brothers creator read from his first novel included at least one high court judge.

Hero of the new tome, The Wrong Boy, is a 19-year old from suburban Manchester, writing an epistle of faith, hope and some considerable charity to his hero, the singer Morrissey.

The literary result is Adrian Mole with attitude.

The singular narrative removes the need for inter-character explanations. So the words read like a great dramatic monologue, allowing Willy Russell, instinctive playwright, to still shine through.
To this, is added various naturally suggestive tempos, as a musical composer may do.

For instance, slow when making a sentimental point, fast when indulging in a litany of complaint of an outburst of joy.

What truly made the event is that Willy is a great performer, as well as a delicious writer with still quite political insight.

Like Alan Bennett, he can bring his own texts to life.

He once stood in for John Conteh as narrator in his early Beatles musical John, Paul, George, Ringo and Bert.

Then he astounded us by replacing the indisposed Noreen Kershaw in the premiere run of Shirley Valentine.

Nowadays - still with the recognisable helmet of hair, silvered into distinction - he looks positively professional.

The frock-coated suit even hearkens back to Dickens (who also expertly read his own material).
Willy's manner was friendly, but still schoolmasterly: perhaps we could have all been given a page to read?

But if Willy Russell were a full-time teacher, pupils would be queuing up to learn.

He has never lost that infectious enthusiasm, which makes good writing sound as if it's as easy as washing the dishes - but everyone knows, it's as specialised as cutting a diamond.

Joe Riley