28 May 2008

"Loitering with Intent: The Child" by Peter O'Toole

Loitering with Intent: The Child
Written by Peter O'Toole

Cover price: $12.95
198 pages

Finding a used copy of Peter O'Toole's Loitering with Intent: The Child at Half Price Books for a quarter was too attractive to pass up.  The Child is the first of two volumes; the second, The Apprentice, covers O'Toole's rise as an actor.  The Child, as its title suggests, focuses instead on O'Toole's childhood, spent under Hitler's bombs.

The material is fascinating, from his bookie dad, Captain Pat O'Toole, and his shady compatriots to his flagrant hatred of being sent to a non-Catholic school as a child.  Concurrent with O'Toole's account of his own life, he provides a biographical study of Adolf Hitler, a figure who clearly loomed large for young Peter.  In fact, one may well leave The Child feeling they've learned more about Hitler than O'Toole himself.  It is a reminder for those who have come after the great war just how awesome was its devastation, even for those who were never part of the holocaust.The writing style and structure are incredibly dense, especially for an American who doesn't speak much British slang.  O'Toole's thoughts play entirely as stream of consciousness; there are no chapters, no effort at organizing the material either chronologically nor thematically.  When a memory of childhood occurred to him, it appears that's what he wrote; if that triggered a thought from his later life, then that went in next.  These might be followed by an anecdote about the Fuhrer (thankfully, at least, the Hitler stuff is mostly chronological, if random).  This, on top of the fact that many of O'Toole's sentences ramble and take on a life all their own.

Fans of O'Toole the actor will not find much of interest in The Child, though fans of O'Toole the man will find it fascinating.  It is more valuable, though, as the memoirs of a man who lived through the Luftwaffe's bombing of England as a young Irish boy.  Even had he never gone on to play T.E. Lawrence or anything else of cinematic importance, these memories alone make for compelling reading and contribute a sincere and candid point of view to the historical record of World War II.

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