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Clamour King by David Muirhead

Clamour King

by David Muirhead

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Schooldays: the best years of our lives or an unpleasant but necessary interregnum between infancy and adulthood? For Peter Chapman, boarding at an English Grammar School in the 1970s, it was the later.

David Muirhead’s latest book may be set in a school but it is a thoroughly adult story about a 13-year-old boy who has been cursed with intelligence, charm and phenomenal beauty, and stirs emotions wherever he goes.

Young Peter Chapman changes schools abruptly schools when a teacher commits suicide after having kisses him on the lips in front of the whole class, and he is placed under the care of Phillip Dryden, housemaster of School House, and a youthful, committed and idealistic maths teacher.

Peter’s extraordinary looks cause problems right from the start as he attracts the attention – positive and negative – of the entire school: a little bit wild [he smokes and drinks] he soon finds himself in a compromising situation and is saved from ridicule and expulsion only by the good graces of his housemaster Dryden, who is bewitched by him.

Basically, Chapman is a good-hearted boy, happy to forgive and forget wrongs inflicted on him, wanting to be like his peers but unwilling to accept responsibility for the actions his looks might prompt others to commit.

The zeitgeist is The Bacchanals by Euripides in which the Greek god Dionysus revenges himself on those who did not show him proper respect by having them torn to pieces.

The school dramatic society is producing the play that year and although Chapman is not in the cast, Richardson – the teacher directing the tragedy – recognizes the youth as the living embodiment of the god misrule, i.e. The Clamour King.

“Whenever he’d tried to picture the god in his mind, he always conjured up a fizzy, rather muscular figure, but not any more. Chapman seemed to fit perfectly, dressed in vines and flowers and nothing else, even if he was too young and on the skinny side.”

Unlike Dionysus, Peter does not tear those who insult him to pieces but it is soon apparent that anyone who causes the boy any harm at all, even inadvertently, pays dearly – often with their lives.

A gentle story and charmingly written, featuring a cast of characters of whom the reader cannot help but grown fond, the book contains some shocking scenes of violence and perversity, not instigated by Peter Chapman but directly attributable to his presence and the affect his glamour has on those around him.

“He was astonishingly beautiful, as perfect as the sun… His eyes seemed to reflect all the beauty in the world, all the pain that made it and brought it into being.”

By the end of the book Peter has been indirectly involved in three deaths in the course of a year, and is still only 13: he appears to have retained his innocence but for how much longer can that last, burdened as he is with such fatal charisma?

A flawed tragic hero almost in the Classical Greek mode, the only characteristic Peter lacks to make him right at home in a Euripidian drama is hubris and one suspects that too will come with time… ( )
  adpaton | Dec 10, 2008 |
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Peter Chapman is an unusual boy whose beauty seems to draw in those around him, while at the same time making enemies. Taking his place at a new boarding school, he's befriended by a range of unlikely suspects, including his housemaster and the school bully. He seems to be the ultimate charmer, but when does charming turn to beguiling?… (more)

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