Sunday, June 25, 2006

The Wild Boy of Aveyron

Years ago I worked as a dramaturg for Leicestershire youth theatre. The group had an inspirational director at the time, Andy Greenhouse, bringing the full power of Grotowski's methods to a group of talented teenagers. They got so into the material they never wanted to perform, just go deeper in their workshop space. We worked on the theme of Kaspar Hauser, the German wildboy who was brought into society from a childhood alone in the forest.
A similar figure has a walk-on part in my new novel, Slippery When Wet - a naked Bengali youth parading naked down the middle of the street. I borrowed an image from my Kaspar Hauser reading of those years - that looking into such a boy's eyes is like staring into the eyes of a hen.
This all comes back to mind after reading a splendid novel recreating the life of another nation's wildboy, The Wild Boy of Aveyron in France. The novel is Wild Boy by Jill Dawson. It's a grand concoction drawn together from the emotional hopes and buried histories of those surrounding the boy as well as the boy himself. It takes you into that post-revolutionary world of France in a highly engaging way. It's a true feat, giving the autistic boy with only three words as full a range of human expression and feeling as the intellectually acute young doctor whose charge he is in, and the 'stout-hearted' Madame Guerin who acts as his foster mother. An absorbing read.


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