This was another Oxfam purchase which I picked up because I was blown away by Cloud Atlas and also really enjoyed its predecessor (though I read it some time afterwards) Ghostwritten. Also, I know you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover but it is really pretty; the pale blue and gold wheat field below.
In terms of plot, its more of a character driven book than revolving around events. Our narrator is Jason Taylor, an awkward, stuttering aspiring teenage poet in a small Worcestershire village. The book takes place over the course of a year, 1982/3, in which he desperately tries to avoid bullies and his parents marriage falls apart.
First off I’ll tell you what I liked about it. Its incredibly readable, I got through it in just a couple of sittings really. There are some funny moments and some which are (almost) moving. I liked the bit when he, literally, lands in the gypsy camp and then later encounters them again at their fun fair. However, that’s about it…
What I loved so much about Cloud Atlas and Ghostwritten, which are essentially collections of interconnected short-stories, is that even though you encounter each character for a relatively short space of time they are nonetheless vibrant, engaging and believable. I just wasn’t convinced by Jason. Yes, he is meant to be precocious but I had the constant feeling that this was written by an adult presenting themselves as a teenager and his voice just wasn’t convincing enough. My second criticism is the over-abundance of 80s references. They were laid on so thick they became clichés. When, half way through reading, my husband asked how I was enjoying my book I told him it was ok but the author had over-egged the 80s childhood references. He said “What is it like ‘I was eating a sherbert dib-dab while listening to Duran Duran'” and that is EXACTLY what it is like. You’ve got the Falklands War, Betamax videos, duffel coats, Double Deckers, Kate Bush, IBM computers… you name it, its in there somewhere. I found the plot a little predictable, as most coming of age stories are, and I just think these clever-weird teenage boy books are overdone now. Joe Dunthorne’s Submarine does it all so much better, and I’m not just saying that because I went to school with him!
I was going to suggest that this would have been better marketed as Young Adult, but then would today’s teens get all those 80s references? Perhaps then it wouldn’t bother them as much as it did me.