I started reading Spud somewhere around April or May 2015 and at last; here I am having finished reading this crazy series nearly 5 months later. It hardly ever takes me this long to follow up on a series and perhaps that is (in a tiny manner) a reflection of the kind of books John van de Ruit has written.
‘Spud: Exit, Pursued by a bear’ is titled after The Guv’s catchphrase which he often uses while saying goodbye to Spud. And you must have already figured out why this title is so apt. So the fourth book in this comedic series weighs heavily on the ending of Spud’s schooling and by extension, our sneak peeks into his life. But don’t be fooled for a second into thinking it to be a sappy or emotional.
Matric year for Spud means stepping up into prefect duties and more importantly, enjoying the privileges that come with it. Among the new batch of first years, titled the ‘harmless half dozen’, Albert Schweitzer and Near Death stand out. Albert Schweitzer being Spud’s attentive, highly organized slave who is personally speaking, the highlight of the book. John van de Ruit continues the theme of insanity and madness, and introducing wonderfully developed flat characters. Rambo remains just as aloof as before and even more obnoxious while Vern reaches a new level of insanity. Sarah Silver, a new addition to Spud’s messy romantic life has the singular characteristic of having stalker tendencies. Speaking of Spud’s love life- the book ends on a confusing note with regards to the same, coming full circle to the first book.
‘Spud 4’ witnesses extraordinary changes and maturity is Spud. Even his fellow Crazy Eight members seemed to have calmed down and this gives us an opportunity to see that the funnier elements of this series are closely linked with the writing and not the actual events. Things look up for Spud as he finds himself working further towards his acting career, putting effort into his cricket game and overall gain a confidence he was lacking previously.
A long vacation is involved; a night time tournament of cricket and even the dreaded house play from ‘The Madness Continues’ makes a comeback. Cricket is given a lot more importance. The Matric prom takes place along with a couple other socials. During his long weekends, Spud spends a lot more time with his family. His last year of schooling means he has long hours of studying and tests and to decide whether to stay back for post matric or not.
In comparison to the previous books, Spud 4 is a lot more grounded. The rape jokes and homophobic slurs Spud indulged in, in the first book have entirely disappeared. The Crazy Eight don’t follow around like Rambo’s word is the law anymore. Bullying the younger students has reduced considerably (except by Boggo) and Spud even forms a true companionship with his slave. It also has subtle infusions of nostalgia and the sense of an ending, especially highlighted in Spud’s interactions with The Guv.
It is a brilliant book to end the series with and the very last scene on which the book ends is almost poetic. It is visually brilliant, like you can almost feel the screen fading black as a movie ends. And personally, despite my love hate relationship with this series, I can’t help but feel a pang in my chest even as I type this.