Consider the adages: Fifty is the new forty! If you haven’t grown up by the time you’re fifty you don’t need to! Or, my favourite, from David Bowie: “Ageing is the extraordinary process of becoming who you should have been.” Mid-life is the time to regain a positive sense of oneself, explore one’s interests and generally make the most of your remaining innings … But what if mid-life feels more like hitting a dead wall? When the pillars of marriage, children and career begin to crack and possibly crumble. This is the dilemma facing Peter Duffy, protagonist in Robert Graham’s playful and extraordinarily well-observed ‘coming-of-old-age’ novel, The Former Boy Wonder.
Former music journalist, Peter, is confronting humankind’s fundamental question, that of purpose: “If time is now limited, is this how I want to spend it?” Pushing fifty, Pete wonders if his choices so far have been satisfying or sacrificial, courageous or cowardly. If he’d acted differently at key junctures, would he be happier at life’s mid-point? The monsoon of longing that unravels is highly relatable, whatever your age. This is a book with enormous heart, cloaked in wit and wry intertextuality.
For Peter, the re-appearance of his first love, Sanchia Page, triggers a quest – part fairytale, part DC Comics - to re-write his narrative, tear up unworkable plot lines, change the genre of his life from tragedy to romance and start again at the beginning. (Imagine Peter as a middle-aged Billy Fisher, the fantasist who prefers his "imaginary country" in Billy Liar). To do this, Peter first has to remember everything correctly and that, of course, isn’t easy. Memories are slippery and can morph with time. A look, a gesture, a decision can all be remembered wrongly, even misinterpreted. Peter admits, “I may not be capable of summoning up the true past … I’m looking for truth here.” That truth, about himself and his actions – when finally grasped – might just be the making of Peter Duffy, aged forty nine and three quarters.
Victoria Delderfield is author of The Secret Mother. Her website is here.
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