Barry Desmond is a Wanker
by Martin Knight
(London Books, 2010)

The most depraved book I ever read twice.” — David Cameron

With a resounding endorsement from a former British prime minister who allegedly liked to fuck pigs during his university days, a book title such as Barry Desmond is a Wanker is certainly likely to find stares of disdain or hilarity when consuming said literature whilst commuting on public transport. Believe me, I know after receiving a lengthy moral lecture from a disgruntled Karen-type onboard a cross-country train service between Newcastle and Plymouth.

Penned by Martin Knight, author of Common People and Battersea Girl and published by London Books back in 2010, Knight narrates the life story of our hero Barry Desmond, an only child growing up in the ever expanding London suburbia of the 1960s; Worcester Park, to be exact, which was still part of Surrey until 1965 when the boundaries of Greater London sprawled outwards.

Barry is awkward, shy, and sheltered from the big bad world by his aging and somewhat peculiar parents. Barry is bullied at school and is a social outcast due to his eccentricities and quiet disposition. During his adolescent years, like most of us lads (possibly all of us), he picks up a masturbatory habit which continues to worsen as his life goes on, but due to his isolation from his peers and society at large, he believes that he is alone in his “affliction” and considers his habit depraved and abnormal. He only discovers that he is not alone in “choking the chicken” when he finds his father’s collection of porno magazines in the garden shed with all the pages stuck together.

This tale is one that perfectly examines 20th/21st century loneliness, social awkwardness, and the desire to find a connection with people, although Barry rarely finds it, and when he eventually does, it comes with a catch. That catch being unwanted homosexual advances by a potential friend. Knight also portraits vividly the United Kingdom’s vast cultural, political, social, and demographic changes that starts with Barry’s early childhood in the 1950s through to the 2010s which makes the latter look unrecognisable to the former.

On the surface of things, the novel is a collection of fiftysomething-year-old Virgin Barry’s wanking stories. But it is obviously much more than that; with Knight’s straightforward, easy reading prose, he excellently manages to combine tenderness and sorrow with piss-your-pants humour. One of the most memorable scenes for me is where Barry accidentally witnesses the wife of his work colleague/only acquaintance, Danny Holloway, having extramarital sex in a vehicle outside a pub he frequents. This ordeal leaves Barry feeling sad and immense guilt that he can’t bring it upon himself to inform Danny of his wife’s infidelity but still feels highly aroused from what he witnessed, which creates more guilt when he finds himself repeatedly jerking off over the ordeal.

Another incredibly well-written character in the story is Barry’s father, a stiff, emotionally inept World War II Royal Navy veteran who very much reminded me of my own maternal grandfather. One of his defining character traits is his hatred of ITV, which he banned from the household’s television set as he only permitted his wife and son to watch the BBC, as he would claim “the dreaded commercial channel” was decaying the morals of the nation and saw the Corporation to be be truly British and patriotic and produce the best drama on television, which now seems a laughable and dated opinion if you look at what the BBC has become today. “If Barry wanted to watch football on television, he was only allowed to watch Match of the Day but never The Big Match.” The old man also makes frequent rants about what he calls “pansies, communists and coloureds,” which leaves Barry to ponder, “Although Barry noticed that none of these people ever came into his Father’s orbit.” Due to his wartime experiences, the old man also likes to vocally display his contempt for Germans and also other Allied nations, claiming that Britain would have won the war without the help of the Americans and the “Yanks” should have minded their own business.

As middle age sets in, Barry must confront the death of his parents and being made redundant from his dead end job at an archaic bank. This leaves him all alone in the world with no support system and an addiction to Internet porn, which he finds disgusting yet arousing at the same time. Yet he finds himself financially well-off and decides to to go on holiday to Cyprus, where he almost has sex with a married woman. his is where it is strongly hinted at that Barry may have autism/Asperger’s Syndrome. In search of friendship and camaraderie, Barry eventual purchases season tickets for Fulham FC, as Martin Knight is a lifelong Chelsea Fan and I believe was once a long time hooligan or at least associated with the Chelsea Headhunters firm. This is where the author appears to be definitely poking fun at his protagonist and the fans of Chelsea’s West London Rivals with unapologetic banter.

Knight has written the character of Barry perfectly with a simple yet entertaining page-turning flow. There are parts during this book that will make you want to cry, cringe, and laugh out loud. I cannot praise this book enough; 5+ stars most definitely in my opinion. As an only child raised by much older parents and being a hopeless romantic on the autistic spectrum, I found Barry to be one of the most relatable and interesting literary characters I’ve read in recent times, possibly ever. I did hear rumours about Knight writing a sequel sometime in the future I can only hope that there is truth to these whispers. Although I feel we still maybe waiting a while, as his autobiographical book Broken Wafers is to be published by London Books sometime this year.

Barry Desmond: what a wanker!

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