This crude, nightmarish picaresque describes the gross adventures of a teenage boy and a talking dachshund named Mary as they travel in and around London.
Missing sugar buns at an English boarding school set off a search of lockers that turns inexplicably bloody. The school hairdresser cuts off a student’s ear. The headmaster vomits in class because of his gin habit. And 300 “pairs of soiled boys’ underwear” are discovered under a teacher’s bed. This is Page 1 of Barrow’s uncommon debut. He crowds numerous incidents into a skimpy plot that is set off by the headmaster’s sadistic punishment of the student narrator and the youth’s flight from the school. Along the way, he encounters the dachshund and countless incidents of violence and vomit—with the latter peaking during five consecutive pages of Technicolor belches. Twice, and for 25 minutes each time, the narrator is covered with feces from a bull that has been dosed with an emetic. Sexual activity is rampant. Harrod’s has on staff a “Flatulence Contraption Buyer.” There are at least three castrations, with one by Mary, whose storied past includes drug addiction and whose search for her mother ends tragically—as did the author’s short life. Born in 1947 and showing signs of talent in art (his Ralph Steadman–like characters accompany the text) and writing, he was killed at age 22, along with his fiancee, in a car crash two weeks before their wedding. The book’s manuscript was found in a drawer a day later. The primitive, understated style amid such horrors has a nice comic effect, and it might be argued that Barrow only exaggerates the usual catalog of man’s inhumanity. But the torrent of bodily fluids and feces, the mayhem and the wallowing therein will not be to every reader’s taste.
Whether the book comes off as mad satire or just sickening juvenilia, Barrow suggests a writer who might in time have joined the ranks of William Burroughs, William Kotzwinkle, or John Kennedy Toole.