I decided to get this book out of the library after listening to Hendra's contribution to a MOTH story-telling contest -- a recounting of one of the incidents in this book when he stumbles from the despair of a failed suicide attempt into his first improvisation as the manager in the classic rock doc spoof Spinal Tap.
You know you're in for a strange ride when Hendra begins the book with a monk, then plunges into the farcical yet poignant tale of how he met said monk. Hendra, age 15,
was getting embroiled in an affair with a married woman at the time. Of course, all is not quite as it seems. It was the fifties in Britain and Hendra was a struggling Catholic.
In fact, the whole book is about things not being what they seem, of self-delusion and misplaced ambition. It turns out that Hendra, among many other things, was the man impersonating John Lennon howling "Genius is Pain!" on the infamous National Lampoon's Radio Dinner album in the 1970s, and as Lennon himself put it later: "Life is what happens when you're making other plans."
Derailed time and again by substance abuse, atheism, a disastrous marriage, and ego problems (both his and others'), Hendra returns to the Isle of Wight many times over the years for paternal love and guidance to the monk he calls "Father Joe". It is only after Father Joe's death that Hendra learns how far the monk's influence has reached.
Hendra has just enough humility and humour to make this tale of spiritual struggle palatable. The only time I found myself getting impatient with him is toward the end of the book when he speaks lyrically and lovingly of the children of his second marriage, when he has only mentioned in passing the daughters of his first. This seems sometimes to be the privilege of the multi-marrying male, to leave the previous marriage or marriages aside as mistakes (including the resulting children), and cleave to the progeny of the successful marriage.
The book is, however, a thought-provoking read and an interesting angle on English and American humour and satire in the late twentieth century.
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