2009 2010

The Great Perhaps – Joe Meno

The Great Perhaps has one of the best first lines I’ve read:

Anything resembling a cloud will cause Jonathan Casper to faint.

The premise of this book is fantastically original. The central character, Jonathan, suffers from a rare form of epilepsy which causes him to have a seizure if he sees a cloud. To avoid clouds Jonathan becomes a palaeontologist, searching for prehistoric squid in the depths of the ocean.

Jonathan’s wife, Madeline, is studying the violence of pigeons; his daughter Amelia is making bombs in her bedroom and Thisbe, the youngest member of the family, is discovering Christianity. The book also follows their grandfather, Henry, who is dying and decides to utter one word less each day.

This book is a fantastic study of an American family. I was impressed by the way each person had their own unique voice, realistically capturing the thoughts and behaviour of their age group. The book is narrated by each character in turn, with a different writing style being used for each person. Some people may think the styles are gimmicky, especially Madeline’s which consists of 26 different thoughts each ordered by the letters of the alphabet, but I loved it! The continual change of pace and style kept me gripped and allowed there to be humor as well as deeper moments in which the complex relationships within a family could be observed.

The plot itself is quite simple, but I was desperate to know whether one of Amelia’s bombs would go off or if Jonathan would ever find his squid. It was easy to read, yet covered many important themes. 

I don’t think I’ve read a better book about an American family – I’d vote for it to win the Pulitzer prize this year.

Highly recommended.