Monday 23 October 2023

The Hand-Reared Boy - Brian Aldiss (1970)


Rating: Excellent

The Hand-Reared Boy was given to me by a close friend with the words - 'This is filthy, you must read it!' It is, indeed, filthy, but also a fascinating examination of what it was like to be young and sexually experimenting in the 1930's. It is also written in a readable, yet never trite style, which I'm sure helped the novel to be retrospectively nominated for the Lost Booker Prize for 1970 in 2010, although it was not short-listed. The novel follows Horatio Stubbs from childhood and into his late teens, chronicling his sexual experiences with, wait for it, himself, his brother and sister, the family maid, girls of his own age and a little older, boys of his own age and then an older woman at his boarding school just before the outbreak of WWII. It is an unrelenting cavalcade of sex, I'm not even sure that everything I just referenced is an exhaustive account. There's plenty of masturbation, both solitary and mutual (hence the novel's title), but then as Horatio gets a bit older and meets Sister Virginia Traven, who works at the boarding school he attends, he is initiated into the adult games of sexual pleasure, and then to its eventual darker aspects.

Aldiss, a very naughty boy?

The Hand-Reared Boy is certainly no Helliconia Trilogy and would come as a surprise to fans of Aldiss's fine science fiction. There's not much information to be found online, in fact there isn't even a Wikipedia entry for the novel. Apparently it is based on Aldiss's own childhood experiences, which somewhat goes against his appearance as a fairly strait-laced looking English gentleman. The novel is the first part of a trilogy, based on his experiences in the army during WWII, A Soldier Erect emerged in 1972, followed by A Rude Awakening in 1978. Despite the sexual nature of The Hand-Reared Boy, it should be taken as a serious account of growing up and exploring burgeoning desires. My only real worry is regarding the part of the novel set in Horatio's public boarding school, during which the boys basically experimented on each other sexually in the most caviler way. Was it really like that I wonder? Were English public school boys really at it most nights in each other's beds? If so there would have been a lot of visits to the nurse for RSI injuries!   

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