Hand Me Down World – Lloyd Jones

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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.

I surprised him when I told him I was travelling to Berlin. At first he seemed to think I was joking. Then he asked what brought me to that distant city. I answered truthfully, my son. But the rest of what I said was lies. The truth tends to frighten people – some are alarmed and want to run away from the natural disaster spilling towards them. Others stare with wonder. The snail woman was like that. Almost frightened to breathe.

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. ;-)


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29 Comments

  1. Sandy says:

    First of all, I’m pretty impressed you were invited to DINE with this guy. I’m happy to receive an e-mail! And I would bet you are right. Anything you have to slog through a hundred pages to get traction would be destined for a Booker. I never will understand it.

    1. Jackie says:

      Sandy, I’m impressed I got to dine with him too! I’ve never had a meal with an author before. It will go down as one of my highlights of the year, but I only wish I’d made it to the end of the book before I went. I have so many questions to ask him now I’ve actually finished :-(

  2. I loved this review of yours! It’s very honest and makes for an interesting story. Your perseverance with this book paid off in the end, but in a way, this book is also a DNF for you. Confusing!

    1. Jackie says:

      Judith, Exactly! I’m confused too :-( I wish more people would read it so that I can share my thoughts and try to get a clearer picture in my mind.

  3. Alex says:

    I also loved Mr. Pip and Book of Fame, and have. I’ve see the book around (lurve the cover), but was waiting to hear some buzz before actually getting it (you’re the first). One of the things I love about Jones are his creative plots.

    I might try it out if I also enjoy Here at the End of the World We Learn to Dance, which is in the TBR.

    1. Jackie says:

      Alex, I was waiting to see some reviews too :-( I wonder if the lack of them is a sign that other people gave up too?

      I enjoyed Choo Woo by Lloyd Jones too, but haven’t tried any of his other books yet. I will be reading more from his back catalogue as I come across them. Despite my problems with this book he is still an author I will follow with interest.

  4. Violet says:

    I don’t think I can wade through 100+ pages to like the book, I usually give up at around 75 if it’s absolutely not working for me. But you did a good job putting your thoughts across.

    I think I’ll be skipping this but I do have Mr Pip in my TBR pile and I’m looking forward to reading it.

    1. Jackie says:

      Violet, I normally give up a lot sooner too. I tend to only carry on if a trusted source tells me that it gets better after a certain point, which is why I felt it important to let people know why I carried on reading this one.

      I hope you like Mister Pip – if you haven’t read Great Expectations then I recommend that you read it first :-)

  5. Amy says:

    Heh, I love how you say this will be a shortlisted book because it was difficult. I’ll be interested to see if it is for sure now! I don’t like too much struggle, so might pass on this one thanks. Glad you ended up liking it though.

    1. Jackie says:

      Amy, It seems to be a recurring pattern :-( If only I was able to bet on these things I’d be rich!

  6. Steph says:

    I admire your perseverance with this book, Jackie. Whenever I’ve needed to interact with authors, I’ve always done my best to finish their books in advance as well, and thankfully I’ve really enjoyed all the books I picked up. I agree that 125 pages is quite a long warm-up period, and I generally wouldn’t give a book that long to convince me of its merits. It’s great that you were able to see its beauty in the end, but it does sound like it was quite the battle!

    1. Jackie says:

      Steph, You are so lucky to have loved all the books you’ve read in preparation for author meets so far. This is the first author I’ve met directly, but I’ve read a lot for book festivals etc and been disappointed. Hopefully I’ll have a more positive experience in the future :-)

  7. Jo says:

    I nearly gave up as well. But I think that I hit the same point in the book and then all of a sudden it all came together.

    It is not a book if you want a nice easy read though.

    Well done for battling through it.

    1. Jackie says:

      Jo, It is great to know I’m not alone in finding the beginning of this book tough going.

  8. TERESA says:

    You’ve piqued my interest with the Aspergers question, Jackie! I might read it for that alone. I have heard fairly good reports about this, more to do with the premise of it being a hand me down book as well. I think it will be a reserve at the library sort of book for me, probably some time next year at this rate! PS I loved Mister Pip but this seems very different and I have the End of the World/Dance book on TBR but I call it the tango book…

    1. Jackie says:

      Teresa, I’d love to know your thoughts on the Aspergers aspect of this book. I was shocked when I read the word as I hadn’t seen any signs (and I’m looking for them everywhere!!)

      Hand Me Down is very different in style to Mister Pip. I hope you get the chance to read it soon.

  9. niranjana says:

    Your battle with the text has really whetted my appetite for this one! I think I’m going to apply the 100 page test to other potential Booker nominees from now on :)

    1. Jackie says:

      niranjana, That is great news! I know that a lot of people love to be confused so I hope you enjoy it :-)

  10. Stephanie says:

    I am alsways afraid this will happen when I put a book down–that it will actually pick up at some point and become enjoyable. Sadly, I rarely have the perserverence to get that far, but I am glad this one worked out for you!

    1. Jackie says:

      Stephanie, It is a big dilemma. It is so hard to know whether it is going to be worth the effort. I always try to look for reviews if I’m considering giving up. Normally I find one which lets me know if it is worth carrying on.

  11. Rebecca says:

    Well, I have never read this book, so I cannot comment on it, but all I can say is – Wow! Lucky you for being invited to dinner with the author. Sounds like you had a really enjoyable time!

    1. Jackie says:

      Rebecca, Blogging leads to some amazing opportunities :-)

  12. people with asperger’s don’t necessary dislike being with people (if that is what you’re implying with “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.” and apologies if you aren’t) it’s just they have an inability to empathise with other people and to not recognise facial and verbal cues etc

    so kicking a ball could be seen as a repetitious behaviour almost a obsession (OCD and austic behaviours are somewhat linked) my brother, who has autism is obsessive about watching the news, he watches it at 1, 6 and 10 and generally the news is the same each time but he has to watch it…it’s repetitious behaviour

    also my brother can be around people and communicate and be reasonably fine…however, he wouldn;’t be able to pick up on subtle facial cues etc plus

    of course i would need to read the book although i’ll probably won’t

    1. Jackie says:

      DamnedConjuror, My son has Aspergers so I know that they love being with other people, but often find it hard.

      Sorry – I should have made it more clear. They have no trouble kicking a ball to someone else, it is receiving a ball that is the problem. He can’t recognise the subtle clues that someone is about to throw/kick the ball to him and really struggles. He hates anything that involves balls as a result. I mentioned it to the specialist and she said almost all ASD sufferers have the same problem, although they can learn to watch the physics of ball’s movement when they get older.

      The book had no mention of love for routine, rules or any of the other typical signs of ASD.

      1. ah ok, hope i didn’t come across as a dickhead or anything

        i didn’t know that about the ball thing, tbh i don’t a lot about apsergers – two of my brothers have autism which as you prob. know are on the same spectrum but aren’t exactly the same as aspergers

        i kinda want to read this book now just to see…was it like a ta-dah moment? it’s sort of annoyed me now, and I haven’t even read the bloody thing. There are three things that annoy me:

        whenever someone says they’re depressed because they feel sad about going into work or something
        or i am so anal….i’m so ocd!
        or i’m such an eccentric…i must have austim!

        anyway, i digress…

        while we’re on the subject, what books would you pick that feature a character with aspergers/autism that feels true to life?

        i would definitely pick curious case of the dog…

        there were moments where i had to chuckle and nod my head because it reminded me of things my brothers have done and do…

        1. Jackie says:

          DamnedConjuror, Don’t worry – I admire anyone who tries to correct opinions of those with autism. There is so much mis-information out there and I wish people would have a better understanding. I phrased my sentence badly so you were right to correct me.

          “was it like a ta-dah moment?”
          It was very strange – a single mention right at the end. I don’t think it was supposed be a special twist, but I don’t understand why it was there either.

          Curious Case of the Dog is the best book I’ve read so far, but I loved the film Adam. If you can watch that then I highly recommend it. I’m planning to read a lot of other books in the near future, so watch this space :-)

          1. cool, cool

            yeah, Hollywood films are probably the worst for depicting autism

            i think NAS recommended Adam. i’ve been meaning to watch it thanks for reminding me

  13. What a wonderfully honest review — it certainly does make me rethink about the books that I initially may have put down around a certain number of pages. Perhaps if I push through I’ll begin to see the magic of it.

  14. Kathleen says:

    This is why I have a terrible time abandoning books when I don’t like them. I’m always thinking if I keep reading I will discover something wonderful!

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