His Stupid Boyhood: A Memoir

Peter Goldsworthy

His Stupid Boyhood: A Memoir
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His Stupid Boyhood: A Memoir

Peter Goldsworthy

Few Australian writers have delved as deeply as Goldsworthy into the mysterious state of being that is childhood. Now he’s applied his fascination with that stage of life to his own, from his bizarre first memories to the embarrassments of adolescence.

For all his working life Goldsworthy has been both doctor and writer - not for nothing is he hailed as Australia’s Chekhov - and his memoir is a rare insight to a mind charmed equally by literature and science, the rational and the imagined. The small country towns he grew up in gave free rein to the young Peter’s intense curiosity, and in the fifties and sixties he ran amok in hilarious fashion. A boy with a mind wide open to the universe but closed to self-knowledge, he came of age with a naive self-confidence that was ripe for the bursting.

Comically self-deprecating, unrestrained in its honesty, His Stupid Boyhood is a passport to the lost country of youth, and a beautiful homage to childhood in general.


Peter Goldsworthy has laid himself open for inspection – like one of his cadavers from medical school – in this memoir.

Starting with his first sexual inclination, at age four, towards crank-handled cars (I recently heard a different explanation of ‘cranking’ which I won’t even go into), Goldsworthy meanders through his childhood memories, closing the book at the age of eighteen for the very sensible reason that: ‘The age at which I was obliged to take adult responsibility for any crimes I might commit makes a tidy end point for a memoir of childhood, and especially childishness. It also makes for a legally safe end point, given the various sins and stupidities that can be confessed under the cover of diminished responsibility.’

There are plenty of light-hearted sins and stupidities between the covers of this book. For me, the memoir really hits its straps once Goldsworthy and his family arrive in Darwin. Goldsworthy writes brilliantly and with immediacy about his years spent breaking into boatsheds; picking fights with, well, just about anyone; collecting butterflies, beetles, lizards; and perhaps boring the girls who spent any amount of personal time with the good-looking but slightly distracted Goldsworthy. His girlfriend Mouse gets special mention for her particular ‘handling’ of the young Goldsworthy.

The early university years were highlights also. Goldsworthy’s loneliness and uncertainty as he embarks on adult life are covered up by a Che Guevara beret and bravado. I loved the sweet clash of cultures where long-haired hippy Goldsworthy marches at anti-war demonstrations during the day and goes drinking with his army buddies at night.

If you adore Peter Goldsworthy’s novels (which I do), you’ll enjoy spotting familiar landmarks from his fiction. The clarity and honesty he brings to each of his books are clearly a direct result of his stupid boyhood.

Gabrielle Williams is a bookseller at Readings Malvern.

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