It has been a while since I read a Guy Portman novel. The last one I read was Golgotha, back in 2019, and clicking the link will take you to my review. That saw the demise of his wonderfully incorrect anti-hero Dyson Devereux, but now he introduces us to someone who might be a teenage version of DD. Horatio Robinson is clearly “on the spectrum”, as Special Educational Needs and Disabilities teachers might say. I confess to having Googled that to make sure it was still the ‘correct’ term as, having been out of schools for ten years, I wondered if the terminology had mutated into something more flowery and Californian.
Horatio is fixated with Trigonometry, reads French dictionaries and Dickens to relax, and has a visceral hatred of his mother’s boyfriend – an absolute oik called Brendan. Horatio’s mother – Rakesha – is from Antigua, but his father fled the scene when Horatio was five. Horatio is busy applying his love of sine, cosine and tangent in an art lesson, after the teacher sets the class the task of producing a completely symmetrical design. When the class bully – Dominic – damages Horatio’s work, Horatio – as you do – picks up a pair of scissors and impales Dominic’s hand to the desk. He is, of course, immediately suspended from school and, as part of the process, has to visit a counsellor. I don’t know what contact Guy Portman has had with these people but, from my experience, his version is chillingly authentic. Horatio, by the way, narrates the story:
“She does more talking, much more. She asks some questions. The spikey hair, grinning and whiny voice is terrible combination. And she keeps leaning towards me, close enough that I could smack her in the face.
‘I’ve heard about your issue at school. Could you tell me in your own words what happened?’
‘Well, it would be really helpful if you could.’
‘Helpful for whom?’ ‘
‘Well, you, of course.’
She’s grinning again.”
It took me a while to twig that Horatio’s absent father is, of course, none other than than Dyson Devereux himself. Horatio, permanently excluded from his school, now has time on his hands to perfect a way of ridding his world of the loathsome Brendan. After getting chased out his local library for researching (in the interests of science) Erotic Auto-Asphxiation, he concocts a complex plan which he hopes will remove Brendan in a way that will also shame the dead man, while in no way linking the crime to himself.
“I have always been an introverted creature with an insatiable appetite for knowledge, and a sardonic sense of humour. Throughout a childhood in London spent watching cold war propaganda gems such as He Man, an adolescence confined in various institutions, and a career that has encompassed stints in academic research and the sports industry, I have been a keen if somewhat cynical social observer.”
This cynicism is a sheer delight, especially to readers who, like me, cast a jaundiced eye over our descent into a progressive madness, typified by those in ‘public service’ who thoughtlessly espouse every insane social fad imported from America. Portman chooses his targets well in this novel. ‘Woke’ teachers, failed psychologists masquerading as counsellors, and the frequently dystopian world of mothers deserted by fathers, and the often calamitous consequences for the children of that disunion, all come under fire. Portman turns over a heavy stone, and all kinds of nasty creatures scuttle away to avoid the light of day. Emergence may be a polemic, but in shooting down pretty much every modern moral and social balloon it is immensely entertaining, and very, very funny. It is out now.