Former teacher, essayist and philosopher GP Wilson has left a heartfelt parting gift in his fifteenth and final book 'Growing Down'.
Penned in the first person, the book is a collection of connected ‘episodes’ spanning the author's life from cradle to grave. Throughout, GP's alter ego tells of the bitter-sweet experiences of the Twentieth Century Man and is a masterpiece of satirical reverie. Pricking his own and society's pomposity, this darkly comic exploration is not only an examination of man's failings but also a sabre-like thrust at the politicos' sticking plaster solutions.
Previously nominated for The Guardian’s Book of the Week and the Boardman Tasker Prize, the King's School's much-loved former Head of English is at his very best in his final words.
There is no loss of intellect from the 80-year-old's pen, who died last November, but rather a brilliant mix of both nostalgia and cynicism in this thrilling page-turner.
Very much a man's man: A trained lawyer, highly-educated classicist and seasoned rugby coach, Graham Pearce Wilson was widely known and respected across his adopted town, especially in the hostelries.
For the thousands of pupils who loved him, this will be a touching read tracing, as it does, his childhood religious guilt, early romantic excursions and anti-climactic elevation to adulthood. The book seems to pose the eternal question: 'Do we ever really grow up?" Even with his anti-hero's final fatal slip to drown in the depths of The Minch, there is an unnerving sense of fatalism and utter hopelessness that makes the reader shudder.
For those that didn't have the pleasure of listening to him in class or sitting across a pub table from the master raconteur, it's simply a wonderfully thought-provoking read. From boyhood remembrances of falling bombs, religion's fearful power of suggestion and the sense of loss from the urban sprawl of the 1960s, this book also pays homage to his heroes.
One can hear echoes of Shakespeare, Joyce and Orwell across all the episodes as he mocks his own pretension and purposelessness. He could be Ulysses' Leopold Bloom, Lear's Fool or 1984's Winston Smith. Only occasionally does he stop to celebrate his achievements. Most notable are his memories of his early teaching methods and how seriously he took his craft:
"The aim was for each lesson to be a show, a firework display that held the eye and concentrated the mind yet simultaneously informed, directed and warned against unseen pitfalls." GP Wilson
Ex-King's School pupil Ian Curtis, now famously celebrated in a stunning town centre mural, admired GP Wilson above all teachers, and one can see why as he explains how he tried to turn his class into a theatre and maximise the impact of every lesson. But as the narrator grows older and the book develops momentum, there is a mystical questioning of the anticipated order, with a series of unexpected endings challenging the reader's assumptions.
GP never sets himself up as a hero, just an ordinary, unassuming man, fond of the solitary life and his accustomed chosen pleasures: mountain life, sporting flair and feminine charm. In this book he is one of those he championed all his life, the common man. It is a book written by a fully-formed adult, who says he might be 'Growing Down' but is, in fact, celebrating a wonderful climax.
Graham is survived by his beloved wife Tricia who was recently awarded the British Empire Medal for her lifelong work with the Guiding movement; his daughter Jane, an artist and educationalist living in Yorkshire and his son Paul, an Oxford historian, who is now an author living in Sydney, Australia. He is also survived by his three grandchildren: Archie, Bobby and Alex.
Published on October 25, 2022, ‘Growing Down’ can be ordered via SHOP | confingo (confingopublishing.uk)