Perhaps I should start with a warning. If you are over twenty-five and British, you may well find that the novel's title reminds you of something - perhaps a certain rhyme from a famous British childrens' programme of the 70s and 80s, featuring furry creatures who live under Wimbledon Common and pick rubbish as a way of life. If you treasure particularly fond memories of these creatures and their song, and don't like the idea of said song being permanently associated in your memory with scenes of almost unbearable horror, humiliation and cruelty, then, as they say, look away now. But if you don't fall into that category (and, realistically, you probably don't), I warmly encourage you to read "Remember You're a One-Ball".
The premise of the novel has an almost League of Gentlemen feel about it: the hero, Ramsey Blake, is a young man who has somewhat lost his way in life (if he was ever on the way to begin with) and, like many before him, decided that he might as well become a primary school teacher. As "luck" would have it, he ends up being posted to his own old school, in a little rural Devon town. Blake attempts to dicharge his duties, mired in not-particularly-happy memories of his own days in the school, but a chain of strange events brings him to the realisation that, to put it mildly, there are quite a few teaching practises going on at his place of work which would give an OFSTED inspector a thrombie. As the blurb puts it, Ramsey is about to receive "the ultimate object lesson in human cruelty".
These are big words, and if Crisp were a lesser author you'd just resign yourself to the inevitable descriptions of rape, dismemberment, mutilation, and foreign objects inserted in inappropriate places. But while mutilation isn't entirely off the menu, what Crisp offers is much more upsetting than that: a detailed, perfectly believable analysis of staggering human cruelty. In this novel, the cruelty is largely aimed at children, which, for some people, might make it particularly hard to stomach, but it is never what you'd call "gratuitous". The revelations Blake comes to through prolonged exposure to his Karswellian headmaster's reign of terror are applicable, not just to children, but to adults. And indeed, what are children but adults waiting to happen? One of the most horrifying observations of the novel is that nobody ever leaves their childhood behind, and, for some, the humiliation and helplessness they encountered through systematized school bullying continue throughout their adult life.
Then, just as you feel you have got your head round the organised monstrosity of the school and its grim denizens, Crisp takes things to a new level. Directly after Blake makes his horrifying discovery, there is a sort of lull in the centre of the book, running over a few chapters, as he makes his way back to his own childhood home and attempts to take stock of things. These chapters are more subtle in content, but the writing is tremendous, especially when Crisp describes the nostalgic process. One of his strengths as an author is that he writes things as they really are, rather than as millions of other authors have written them before. This can at first impart an air of mystery and oddness to descriptions of the most mundane things - and, of course, some of this stems from Blake's own nigh-on constant feelings of alienation (he has capital-I Issues with women and the world of work, his parents seem to be a dim ineffective blur, etc.), so that "Remember..." is not what you might call an "easy" read. But the end result is a fictional world that seems far, far more vivid and real than the outpourings of most horror and weird fiction authors. The lull, of course, doesn't last, and eventually gives way to a white-knuckle final act, as Blake is forced to choose what side he's on.
There are some features in this novel that definitely seem "Crispian": the relationship difficulties, the sense of blankness of the soul, the secret horror at the heart of every organisation, the skilful use of landscape. Crisp is often praised for his grip on the absurd, but I'm not sure that's the right word to use in this case. The cruelty here is embedded in a system at least as rational as any more benign education system, and many of the final aims are the same. The system just happens to run on cruelty, humiliation and exclusion of the "different" rather than trust or universal respect. However, there is also a great deal of humour in the book - it's not just a one-note Theatre of Cruelty gig - and I particularly enjoyed the pin-sharp dissection of New-Age self-help manuals in the middle of the book. All in all, there is, as the slogan goes, something for everyone in this book, as long as you don't walk into it expecting cosy cliched traditional horror. I hope Crisp's fame continues to grow, as he deserves to be feted outside the confines of genre fiction. And I'm not just saying that because he's watching...