Caveney, Graham. “The Boy with the Perpetual Nervousness: A Memoir”, Simon & Schuster, 2018.
Coming of Age in the Seventies
Graham Caveney was raised in Lancashire, a small town in the north of England that was known for its football team, its cotton mills and its deep roots in the respectability of the middle class. He was confused by his adolescence and spent time reading Kafka and listening to the music of the Buzzcocks and Joy Division. In fact, this was how he escaped even if just in mind but when a mentor noticed this about him, everything changes.
In this memoir, Caveney looks back at that time and tries to reconcile his past and present as he looks at, the challenges and awe of adolescence, music, and literature. we see his anger and despair in his gorgeous prose and it is here that he finds some kind of redemption. Written with raw emotion, He shares the power of the arts in his memoir and he makes us sit up and listen.
At first, it seems that “The Boy with the Perpetual Nervousness” is a memoir of abuse by a seductive and manipulative priest and revered mentor but it is so much more than that as it gives us a look at “a working-class Irish family blindly under the spell of the Catholic Church.” It is both a heartbreaker and a brilliant look at growing up. Caveney gives us insight into the British class system, traditions, rituals, ways of life and habits of thought as he takes us slowly and surely into the world of abuse by the church. Yet we also get a tender and sensitive story of adolescent male friendship, unspoken parental love and redemptive power of music.
Caveney’s sexual abuse by his headteacher for years pushed him into an adult battle with alcoholism and depression. He waited until his parents were gone to write this. They were devout Catholics and so proud of the headteacher (himself a Catholic priest) taking what they thought was an academic interest in their son. Caveney positions his repeated sexual abuse into the landscape of an early Eighties adolescence and resists reaching easy conclusions as he attacks the contradictions of his adolescence. He is very angry yet he is also able to be humorous. Here he was— “a clever, awkward, nerdy, only child of devoutly Catholic working-class parents in Accrington, Lancashire, he was groomed by a priest at his local grammar school in Blackburn, and then sexually abused by him.”
Caveney doesn’t mince words and through his use of vocabulary brutality, we better understand what he went through. We also see the importance of music here and it is in another world; totally apart from Caveney’s experience with his abuser. On the other hand, his interest in literature was a tool his abuser used to win him over. He hits us hard through the moments of abuse, the emotional trauma and the long-standing guilt that he has had to deal with and it is impossible not to see the impact of sexual abuse.