We’ve all been 18 once: and once is generally enough for most people. But sometimes it’s good to look back at this age of overridingly unrealistic ambitions and naive innocence to realise how much you’ve changed for the better – or got old, boring and predictable, depending on your viewpoint . Reading The P45 Diaries has allowed me to step back into the mind of the teenage me and empathise with the trauma, heartache, broken dreams and far-fetched plans of another, fictional loafer just like the 18-year old me.
Jay Golden, the central character and narrator of these diary entries, is having a tough time. Not only is he a teenager, with all the attendant worries, hypochondria and over-active hormones you’d expect, but he’s also getting through jobs like most people get through socks. His dad is a big cheese at the BBC and sees Jay’s aspiration to become a wind-swept and interesting writer in the JD Salinger mould as about as worthwhile as his last job at the local kebab shop (note to self: remember to check inside the pitta bread next time I have a kebab). His older sister is busy fussing over her marriage plans and his younger brother is taking his Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle obsession to new and sometimes violent ends. And, most tellingly for the subtext of the book, Jay’s mum has recently died, succumbing to the Big C and leaving a gaping hole in both the centre of this loving family and in Jay’s emotions.
It should be quite hard to like Jay – he’s a loafer, he plays childish practical jokes and he treats his dad incredibly badly (despite having great affection for him deep down). But Jay’s idealism, humour and out-and-out drive to become a famous author make him a very easy character to like. He’s flawed, but he’s young and you really do find yourself willing him on, hoping he’ll finally write more than three pages of his big novel. Or that he’ll stop having arguments over pointless trivialities with his on/off girlfriend, Gemma, and his sexually confused best mate, Sean. You’re really rooting for him when he faces yet another dead-end job, or faces the barrage of corporate bullshit that so many office jobs seem to entail. Does he get there? Does he get the girl and become a respected author with enough influence to end up being buried in Westminster Abbey (a question Jay actually considers). You’ll just have to read the book and find out…
I found it a hugely enjoyable read on my daily commute. There are laughs, there are moments of true pathos and there are definitely some tears. But I finished the last page wanting more, hoping for another instalment in Jay’s life to find out what really happens to this hapless dreamer. Always a good sign, I think.