In the beautiful Kwa-Zulu Natal Midlands young boys are being chased and beaten by prefects and teachers alike. This is the familiar scene hilariously depicted by author John van de Ruit in the newest edition of the widely successful Spud series.
Spud – Exit, Pursued by a Bear is the fourth and final instalment of the series that has become a household name throughout South Africa. The success of Spud and the two subsequent books, Spud – The Madness Continues and Spud – Learning to Fly, has put pressure on John van de Ruit to maintain the standard the first three novels have set. This final effort, however, is the cherry on the cake, inducing loud and embarrassing chuckling when read in public places as well as a genuinely empathetic response to the now familiar characters.
The utter madness with which teachers and students conduct themselves at this “posh” private school defies belief. A prefect now, Spud is more involved in the chaos than ever before, his roommates Rambo, Boggo, Rain Man and Fatty plan ever more ridiculous escapades from the sanctity of the “cop shop” (the prefects’ room). Rules are broken, money is extorted from terrified juniors and the boundaries of sanity are pushed to new and exciting levels.
Facing the unthinkable prospect of leaving school a virgin, Spud is forced to strike a balance between academic work, cricket and “spading” the ladies. On top of all this he is forced to consider the path of his future career, aided by a rather attractive student counsellor, Eve, with whom Rambo, the first team rugby captain, has had a very public affair.
Perhaps the only criticism that can be made is about the book’s ending. After the previous three novels, readers have become emotionally invested in Spud’s journey and the ending feels a bit open-ended, almost as if Van de Ruit was leaving room for a fifth book despite expressing that Spud – Exit, Pursued by a Bear is the last in the series. In this very rare case, an overly sentimental happy ending could have worked in the story’s favour.
With a mixture of proudly South African colloquialisms and poignant descriptions of political events from 1993, which are expertly woven into the story, this is a book that will provide hours of entertainment. The colourful characters really do come to life in one’s imagination and more than a little nostalgia creeps in as Spud finishes his matric year and is forced to face the world.
A definite must read for the South African pop culture junkie.
Image: Carla van Aswegen