I must admit to taking up Kevin Eldon’s My Prefect Cousin: a short biography of Paul Hamilton with some trepidation. Comedians often don’t make good authors – what’s funny in a stand-up routine, when written down, only takes up a page or two. Expanding this to book-length can produce something not very funny, which after a chapter or two can become tiresome and forced.
I didn’t want my admiration for Kevin Eldon, actor, tarnished by reading a disappointing book by Kevin Eldon, author. For those of you who don’t know who Kevin Eldon is, I suggest you almost certainly do. Type his name in to Amazon and see what DVDs appear in the results, or look up his Imdb entry. Once you can recognise him you will find yourself regularly saying ‘It’s Kevin!’ while watching TV or listening to the radio. His appropriately named series, It’s Kevin, was the BBC’s best and most original comedy series of 2013. Look on YouTube for his Punk French Folk Singer, Amish Sex Pistols, or anything else he’s done. His Adolf Hitler/George Martin is exquisite.
At the beginning of the book Eldon explains he had decided not to write a celebrity autobiography as he is fifty (which is much too old) and ineligible due to his ‘ability to write fairly coherent sentences in English all by himself’. His publisher suggested he wrote a book about his cousin, Paul Hamilton, poet; and so he did.
Kevin Eldon is very good at succinctly suggesting genius loci (‘If Kent was the Garden of England, then the Medway Towns were the outdoor privy’; Plymouth…was a depressing place, its drab, grey post-war architecture only slightly overshadowed by its greyer, drabber pre-war architecture’); he is wonderful at evoking the zeitgeist of different periods of Hamilton’s life; but he is at his best at characterisation.
The book takes us through Hamilton’s life both from his own viewpoint and those of others: his parents, school peers, work colleagues, girlfriend, etc. Kevin Eldon is an excellent character comedian, and that is reflected here. Most comic writers write with one voice, their own: I find myself unconsciously reading their words in their voice. Kevin Eldon’s writing’s not like that – he’s a man of many characters and I find myself hearing his characters with different voices (Hamilton’s mother, for example. sounds like Alan Bennett, and Paul Hamilton himself sounds like a pretentious oaf). The characters are caricatures, yet still well-drawn and believable. There are poets like Paul Hamilton out there, or at least one, because I met him once.
So, I needn’t have been concerned about reading this book. My Prefect Cousin is very funny, and occasionally made me laugh out loud. I look forward to a radio adaptation.
Thank you, Kevin Eldon, for the funniest book I’ve read in a long time, and thanks to Penguin and Net Galley for the chance to review it.