Barry Reinvents Himself is a TEFL-lit novel by C.Cotterill (aka Twitter’s @ContinuouslyT).
After being kicked out of a minor prog-metal band, Birmingham-based Barry looks to shake his old image and bounce back. Lured by images of an old college mate living it up in SE Asia, Barry opts to take a CELTA, dragging fellow band reject Russel along for the ride. Shady schools, dodgy colleagues, frustrating students and a series of bad decisions follow. Barry dabbles in/with politics, spirituality and live listening lessons. Russel’s development as a teacher is stifled by long hours and habitual drinking. The pair have no idea where they’re going or what they’re doing. Will the duo’s bond remain intact? Will Barry find himself? Will either of them find love?
Those who follow @ContinuouslyT and like his satire will enjoy the TEFLy bits. The characters are no doubt familiar to many TEFLers; underqualified, unaware of their privilege, ignorant about the industry they are entering with its shady practice/precarity, and stuck in their late teens. The relationship between steady, reliable (bassist) Russel and superficial, self-centred multi-instrumentalist Barry reminded me of when I set off TEFLing many moons ago. Yes, I was the boring one.
The author’s caricatures of those in TEFL, travel and music circles are certainly relatable. It’s mildly amusing that each character’s oral hygiene or habits is mentioned – pooling spit, yellow teeth, concentration tongues, pouting. It makes me wonder how obvious my cheek-biting habit might be to the author if we ever run into each other!
The story as a whole veered off a bit unexpectedly for me – I found the final quarter a tad forced yet still entertaining. Still, it reinforced just how easy it is for people with the right passport to effortlessly dip in an out of an unregulated industry, and it tied up loose ends.
Overall, this is an enjoyable and easy read, full of chortle moments. Those in SE Asia will nod along with some of the strangely familiar predicaments – beginner Yoga that is in no way for beginners, deathtrap outdoor gigs during monsoon season, guided mediation which seems to have no clear ending, spacious yet under-furnished accommodation in Vietnam…
Thumbs up, good holiday read. 4.325/5
Barry Reinvents Himself is available on Amazon (not affiliate link).