An enthralling, emotional memoir that recounts the ups and downs of coming-of-age, set against the music and literature of the 1970s.
Raised in a small town in the north of England known primarily for its cotton mills, football team, and its deep roots in the “Respectable Working Class,” Graham Caveney armed himself against the confusing nature of adolescence with a thick accent, a copy of Kafka, and a record collection including the likes of the Buzzcocks and Joy Division. All three provided him the opportunity to escape, even if just in mind, beyond his small-town borders. But, when those passions are noticed and preyed upon by a mentor, everything changes.
Now, as an adult, Caveney attempts to reconcile his past and present, coming to grips with both the challenges and wonder of adolescence, music, and literature. By turns angry, despairing, beautifully written, shockingly funny, and ultimately redemptive, The Boy with Perpetual Nervousness is a tribute to the power of the arts—and a startling, original memoir that “feels as if it had to be written, and demands to be read” (The Guardian UK).
The Boy with the Perpetual Nervousness NEXT When a Person From Accrington (PFA) meets a Person Not From Accrington (PNFA), there will, at some point, be the following exchange:
PNFA: So where are you from . . . ?
PFA: Er . . . (either sheepishly or defiantly, embarrassed or proud) Accrington.
PNFA: Oh . . . (delighted by their perspicacity) . . . Stanley . . . !
Accrington Stanley FC was indeed the only claim to fame that my hometown had when I lived there. Years later we would be able to add Jeanette Winterson and the actress Julie Hesmondhalgh to our roll call of Accrington’s great and good, but in the seventies and early eighties, the folk memory of a founding first-division football team was as close to recognizable as Accrington got.
When I first left home and went to university, I probably had a dozen such exchanges within the first day. Such was my annoyance that I tried to fudge it with a vague “Lancashire way,” which only served to make me seem either evasive and furtive, as though I was on the run from the police, or dim and uncertain, like I’d just had a course of ECT. I tried amending my answer to “Manchester” for a while, mainly on the basis I had a northern accent and a record collection that contained the Buzzcocks, Joy Division, and Magazine. This would work until I actually met someone from Manchester, or anyone who had been to Manchester, or anyone who knew anything at all about Manchester. Within minutes I would be forced into mumbling something about “a town near to . . . er . . . cotton mills . . . close to Blackburn.” Eventually I would blurt out “Accrington,” they would say “Stanley” and another little bit of me would die.
Quite why I took so vehemently against my hometown’s football club I don’t quite know. It’s partly the name. Could we not have been a robust United or a stoical Town? “Stanley” made us sound as though the team consisted of one man, or, worse, eleven men all with the same name. It added to my sense that I wasn’t from a place so much as a punch line to some unimaginative southern scriptwriter’s joke.1 Where you from? Accrington? Sorry to hear it. I did try on the football thing as a kid for a while. I decided that if supporting a football team was compulsory (and it felt as though it was), I would at least give it a perverse twist and support Burnley Football Club. My dad dutifully took me to Turf Moor (Burnley’s Stadium). I still remember the chant—“Leighton James, Alan West, Martin Dobson, and the rest . . . na, na, na, na, na, na, na, ana”—sung by the Longside (Burnley’s Football Club’s supporters’ end) with boozy exhilaration. I remember getting a hot pie and Bovril at halftime and scalding fat oozing out of the crust onto my paws. I remember thinking, as we stood behind the goal, how unfair it was that we had paid full price but only really got to see half a game, and wouldn’t it be better if they used one end of the pitch rather than both. I remember the fence being charged, the one that separated the Away fans from the Home fans, and a chant going through the ground “A-G-R-O / A-G-R-O / Hello” to the sound of Gary Glitter’s “Hello, Hello, I’m Back Again.” I remember feeling sick and grabbing hold of my dad’s hand and him telling me not to worry. I remember the chants getting louder—“You’re gonna get your fucking head kicked in”; “You’re goin’ home in a fuckin’ ambulance”—and sharpened coins and empty crisp bags filled with piss and crushed beer cans and darts all being thrown from one side of the railings to the next. Ah, the beautiful game.
1 Not just southerners, actually. There was a time when Coronation Street used Accrington as shorthand for a certain kind of existential dread. “A face like a wet Wednesday in Accrington” was one I remember.
Graham Caveney has worked as a journalist, academic, and critic. Publications he has contributed to include NME, Q, Blitz and City Limits. He is the author of a memoir, The Boy with Perpetual Nervousness; ‘The Priest’ They Called Him, a monograph on William Burroughs; Screaming with Joy, a monograph on Allen Ginsberg; and, with Elizabeth Young, of Shopping in Space: Essays on American ‘Blank Generation’ Fiction. He lives in Nottingham, UK.
"Caveney writes beautifully...Ultimately, though, it is not necessarily the writing but the raw emotion that remains with the reader, that and the hope for another volume of memoirs as memorable as this one." —Booklist (starred review)
"Compelling, visceral, and at times very funny, The Boy with the Perpetual Nervousness is more than a memoir of abuse in the hands of a seductive and manipulative priest and revered mentor. It’s an unflinching and yet generous portrait of his working-class Irish family blindly under the spell of the Catholic Church."—Catherine Texier, author of Breakup: The End of a Love Story
“Heartbreaking and brilliant, yet still fun to read.” —Tama Janowitz, author of Scream and Slaves of New York
"The Boy With the Perpetual Nervousness is a fascinating book, a hilarious book and a horrifying one. On the surface it is a vivid, funny memoir of growing up in 1970s Lancashire; a wry treatise on the British class system; a hymn to traditions, rituals, ways of life and habits of thought which are already sliding into oblivion. At its core, however, lies something darker, much harder to talk about, and profoundly disturbing. It’s a book which blew me away and shook me to the core." —Jonathan Coe, author of Number 11
"Graham Caveney’s enthralling memoir is, in part, about the ambiguous virtues of social mobility… But this book is also about something else that hugely enriches it while deeply unsettling the reader... A gripping read… Despite its subject, this is not a depressing book. It is often bleakly funny and, alongside its troubling main theme, tells a more tender story of adolescent male friendship, unspoken parental love and music’s redemptive power… [Caveney’s] voice on the page is humane, big-hearted and without self-pity… His story… feels as if it had to be written, and it demands to be read." —The Guardian
"A powerful, distinct memoir. . . [The Boy with the Perpetual Nervousness] insists that Graham Caveney is here, and that his story is important and that it matters. His open-eyed honesty does himself and his past the justice he was denied at the time." –The Times (UK)
"What Caveney achieves in this powerful, distinctive memoir is the positioning of his repeated sexual abuse into the landscape of an early Eighties adolescence . . . By turns honest, angry, funny, thoughtful, acerbic and desperately sad . . . Caveney impressively resists reaching easy conclusions . . . The book is percussive with black gags, as Caveney attacks the contradictions of his teenage years." –Richard Beard, The Times
"Caveney . . . writes with such robust, defiant attack that he never leaves the reader feeling like a prurient spy. His anger is blistering, any comedy not so much black as bile green . . . Caveney tells the story of his life brilliantly.... you wish there was another one he could have written." –Sunday Times (UK)
"A defiant, important memoir . . . Graham Caveney recounts with great courage and candour how, in the 1970s, as the clever, awkward, nerdy, only child of devoutly Catholic working-class parents in Accrington, Lancashire, he was groomed by a priest at his local grammar school in Blackburn, and then sexually abused by him." –Observer (UK)
"Extraordinary . . . brilliantly detailed, vivid and frequently very funny . . . A remarkable feat." –Editor's Choice, The Bookseller (UK)
Get our latest book recommendations, author news, and competitions right to your inbox.
Thank you for signing up, fellow book lover!
Tell us what you like, so we can send you books you'll love.