Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Pilcrow - Adam Mars-Jones

I would normally do my Richard and Judy review on a wednesday as I take part in the challenge I have set myself but I might start doing these on Thursdays from now on, mind you then I would miss Booking Through Thursdays which in itself would be problematic... well will work that out tomorrow. Finally for today here is the review of Pilcrow which I have been mentioning to everyone I have been reading for ages!

I had to give myself a little break from Pilcrow (I finished it on Sunday) before I could review it so that I could take it all in and let it digest. Adam Mars-Jones has been heralded for some time as one of the best writers by Granta and other such places… before he had even written his first novel, so Pilcrow had a lot to live up to before it was even published and released, it manages to live up to and beyond expectations. The book deals with so much its difficult to sum it up in a review of any length but I shall do my best for you all.

John Cromer is the unusual and fantastic narrator starting around the age of five when doctors diagnose him with juvenile rheumatoid arthritis leading to him having several years of bed rest. From there we are given the often hilarious thoughts and theories that John has as a young boy growing up in the 1950’s. From what he thinks happens in the outside world which he hasn’t seen much of to his mother’s obsession with breeding budgies and cockatiels. It also gives us the underlying insight into marriages and society in that period from things that Johns mother (who is a brilliant gossip) says that we the reader can understand and piece together even if the narrator is too young and doesn’t himself. It also looks at a child’s idea of what life is like to be stuck in that environment in that time and how he feels at the prospect of it being forever.

However it isn’t forever as during a visit to the dentists his mother reads a piece on the misdiagnosis of rheumatoid arthritis and Still’s disease of which John is discovered to have the latter and the one thing you should have if you have Stills disease is bed rest leaving him with lasting disabilities. This part of the book is quite heart breaking as the family cope with the fact what they have been doing is wrong and that now more damage to John has been done to him physically when he and his family believed he was being made better. This then becomes some of the most interesting part of the book as he learns to deal with unsympathetic nurses, other children (two girls of which are hilarious evil tyrants), the workings of his ‘taily’, a murderess on the loose, and the fact that he likes boys. All these subjects are discussed through a child’s eyes which I don’t always like in novels, however here it works as the reader you can draw more adult connotations and hints from everything John sees and tells you. I just loved the black and white view of a child’s and particularly in the circumstances and era that this novel is set, and also in terms of discussing growing up, sexuality and disability.

Adam Mars-Jones has done something quite magnificent with this novel. Every character has depth even if they only appear very briefly, be they a concerned doctor, interfering Grandmother, abusive nurse or 6 year old tyrant and child eater they are dealt with in a real way. He also writes with humour this could easily have been a very heavy and hard going novel. Through Johns observations, bluntness and the scenarios he gets himself into there is tragedy but also some incredibly funny scenes.

The hardest aspect of the book, which isn’t actually that difficult, is the fact it isn’t totally linear and can sometimes jump a long way forward or not too far back, you never loose where you are though and by the end I was slowing down not wanting the final page to be turned. The good news is that this is the first in a trilogy, so I will be getting to hear more about John and his life in the future. That is where the book and its author have triumphed I think John is one of the best characters I have read in a very long time and like the blurb says ‘He’s the weakest hero in fiction – unless he is one of the strongest’. This is a must read book and I hope will get a nod in some of the awards as they come. I think everyone should give this a go as its remarkable and extremely individual. I can’t imagine anyone disliking this book as its so rewarding in so many ways. 5/5.

1 comment:

andavane said...

Thank you, Simon: You've worked hard and deep in this review.
Might I suggest a small re-jig for the following section:

"However it isn’t forever as during a visit to the dentists his mother reads a piece on the misdiagnosis of rheumatoid arthritis and Still’s disease of which John is discovered to have the latter and the one thing you should have if you have Stills disease is bed rest leaving him with lasting disabilities."

to read:

"However it isn’t forever as during a visit to the dentists his mother reads a piece on the misdiagnosis of rheumatoid arthritis and Still’s disease — of which John is discovered to have the latter and the one thing you shouldn't have if you have Stills disease is bed rest — leaving him with lasting disabilities."

em-rules are wonderful little critters, able to sharpen, delineate and generally enhance. The humble pilcrow —
lying neglected for centuries, and only given a ritual dust-off from time to time in divers pulpits — has yet to come into its own.

In its charmingly quirky way, Mr Mars-Jones' new project may give the little chap a leg-up, that it may one day play an endearing part in a world where fiction is beginning to hæmorrhage into our lives.

Kind regards

John