In the interests of full disclosure this might be quite a long post, but I think that my opinion of the book was changed as a result of publisher marketing and so it is important I explain exactly how this occurred.
I loved Mister Pip and so when the publishers invited me for a meal with Lloyd Jones I jumped at the chance. I was sent an advanced proof copy of this book and settled down to read it before I met the author. The problem was that I didn’t like the book at all. The writing style was cold and as the narrative kept jumping from one character to another it meant that I couldn’t connect with any of them. I was confused and didn’t have any idea where the book was going. I gave up after about 60 pages and headed out for a wonderful meal in London, feeling a bit embarrassed to meet an author I respected so much, but whose latest book I had failed to finish.
Lloyd Jones was a lovely gentleman, but very quiet and this combined with my star-struck shy nature meant that we didn’t talk much. I had a fantastic evening and as so many people raved about the book I felt I had to give it another try. Unfortunately, I found the same problems and so put the book down at the 100 page mark. I didn’t want to rush out and write a negative review before its publication date so I waited for a couple of months. Last week I decided it was about time I wrote my review. I couldn’t remember the precise issues I had with the book and so I started reading from where I left off. Then a strange thing happened. I hit Part 3 (p125) and found I started to like it. The plot stopped flitting around, it began to concentrate on a few characters and I found myself connecting with them. There were still sections where I didn’t have a clue what was happening and times when my mind wandered from the page, but overall it began to turn into quite a good book.
The story follows an African woman as she makes a difficult journey from Tunisia to Germany in order to track down her son.
The more I read, the more impressed I became. The plot had some clever twists and some touching scenes. I especially liked the way that each person saw the same situation from a very different perspective.
I had a few problems in believing the actions of some of the characters, but I won’t go into these for fear of spoiling the book for you.
A note about Asperger’s Syndrome
In the final pages of the book it is revealed that the little boy has Asperger’s Syndrome. I didn’t understand why this was the case. I hadn’t spotted any signs of the condition within the text and the few aspects of his personality that we did see (eg. loving to kick a ball to another person) seemed to go against the tendencies of people with the condition. If anyone has any explanations as to why he has the condition I’d love to hear them!
I think that under normal circumstances I’d have given up this book quite early on. I am pleased that I discovered the impressive ending, but I wonder how many people will be prepared to battle through 100+ pages (of a 300 page book) in order to understand what is going on. I suspect that Lloyd Jones has produced a book that will be loved by those who enjoy studying literature, but I think the average reader will struggle with it. My problems indicate that it is probably a strong contender for the Booker Prize next year. I’m betting it ends up on the short list - to be beaten by a book that I can’t finish.