Original Sins by Matt Rowland Hill review – compelling misery memoir

Humour and candour enliven familiar autobiographical tropes, including an evangelical upbringing and drug addiction

Nothing about Original Sins, Matt Rowland Hill’s memoir and first book, should work. Or rather, it should work, but in such a smooth-grooved, unsurprising, seen-it-all-before way that it would fail to stir much excitement. Stuffed in here is every trope of the memoir boom from the past 15 years. First comes the story of middle-class drug addiction, as Hill’s promising young life is reduced to waiting in scary inner-city parks for a boy in a hoodie to drop off a wicked little packet. Then there is the oppressively evangelical upbringing – Hill is the son of a Welsh Baptist minister and his equally zealous wife, whose idea of fun is denouncing Darwin and shouting bits of scripture at each other in the car. And then there’s the fish-out-of-water angle, when Hill gets a scholarship from his state comprehensive to a famous school (never named but easily sourced online and it really is a properly famous one, with penguin suits, fagging and Latin prep). And finally there’s the title, Original Sins, which is hardly original.

And yet, despite all the deja vu, this book is brilliant. The writing shimmers off the page, so that the night sweats are sweatier, the Bible stuff more granular and the class angle queasier than anything you will have read before. Put them all together, add lashings of humour and lacerating candour, and you have a propulsive book – and an informative one too. Depending on where your knowledge gaps lie, you will either learn how to inject yourself with class A drugs or be able to reach for Titus 2 verses 4 and 5 every time you need a reason for snapping off the car radio.

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