Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Spud--Exit, Pursued by a Bear by John van de Ruit #review

Title: Spud – Exit, Pursued by a Bear
Author: John van de Ruit
Publisher: Penguin SA, 2012
Buy link.

While schoolboy antics might not be everyone’s cup of tea, the doings of John “Spud” Milton, or Spud, as he’s affectionately become known, have found a way to creep into many readers’ hearts. Mine included. Book four brings the series to a close, and rightfully so, on a high note.

John van de Ruit’s writing offered numerous quiet sniggers and sometimes even downrightnasty giggles – and I’m a notoriously tough nut to crack when it comes to humour in the written word. But the weird looks from fellow commuters were worth it. Van de Ruit has created a world that seems as though it must be real, but with a twist of the absurd. Perhaps it’s because he manages to hold on to that sense of reality that had me gobbling up the pages.

He has triumphed in much the same way that I feel authors such as JK Rowling have successfully engaged readers, by creating a vast cast of three-dimensional characters. Everyone has their favourite, be it cheering for the demented Vern, or the Guv’s comicallymorose statements or even Garlic’s eternal obsession about Lake Malawi. And, while some of us who grew up reading the Adrian Mole books can draw parallels
between Sue Townsend and Van de Ruit, Spud as a character comes off more optimistic in his naiveté than the somewhat depressing Adrian Mole.

Writing in journal format also poses a challenge, especially with standard expectations of narrative structure, but Van de Ruit balances the various aspects of his protagonist’s life well. Each story arc, be it Spud’s cricket and academic careers, his love life or themisadventures of the Crazy Eight, is balanced. While satirical elements are present, the outcomes never feel contrived. Cricket matches get rained out. There are no miraculous turnarounds for bad maths marks. The ephemeral nature of young romantic entanglementsrings true, and the Crazy Eight behave much like boys we remember from our teenage years.

While the temptation to beg the author to write another Spud book is strong, I agree with Van de Ruit’s decision that this is the last in the series. The ending made me smile and recall the last weeks of my own matric and that sense of an infinitely pliable universe,almost two decades ago.

To push for more would kill Spud’s spirit. And here’s the catch. You cannot go back to those mad, wild times of standing on the cusp of adulthood, but you can relive them vicariously through the experiences of others. Thank you, Spud, you’re forever young.

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