Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Life: An Exploded Diagram

I don't normally write posts on books that I don't finish completely but am making an exception for Life: An Exploded Diagram by Mal Peet. As it is a 2012 BoB contender I want to have a place to link to my thoughts when it is up for competition. Also I thought it might be helpful to some to know why I put it aside and decided to not read it entirely.

Synopsis (from Goodreads):
Can love survive a lifetime? When working-class Clem Ackroyd falls for Frankie Mortimer, the gorgeous daughter of a wealthy local landowner, he has no hope that it can. After all, the world teeters on the brink of war, and bombs could rain down any minute over the bleak English countryside--just as they did seventeen years ago as his mother, pregnant with him, tended her garden. This time, Clem may not survive. 

I was really excited about this when it was first listed as a contender in the Battle of the Kid's Books. A YA book about the Cuban Missile Crisis from a British perspective? I was almost giddy with excitement. Plus I always enjoy a good poor boy/rich girl forbidden romance story. Except this time. My main disappointment was that the book actually does not seem YA at all. From the beginning it reads like adult literary fiction. The point of view switches between third person (past scenes) and first person (present day-almost). The narrator of the first person section is older (Clem as an adult), all the past scenes are extremely detailed, and the narrative rather circuitous. The writing is clever with passages such as: I'm sentimental; I admit that. No, not admit; I proudly declare that. After all, what's so great about being unsentimental? Hard-eyed, hard-nosed, hard-hearted, hard-boiled. Realistic, phlegmatic, unfeeling. Do any of those appeal to you? Fancy sporting any of those on your T-shirt? Besides, scratch a cynic and you'll find a sentimentalist beneath the paint. (page 25) Or: I'm not going to bang on about my suffering, my brutalization, and my salvation at Newgate those long seven years. (Well, eight, if you count the missing year.) Lord knows, bookshop shelves already creak under the weight of Misery Memoirs and Teen Novels that might be called My School Hell. I have no desire to add my small pebble to that avalanche of unhappiness. (p 102) Both of these are ironic, intentionally I'm sure, given the tone of the novel. I smiled at these, I enjoyed reading these two passages, but  I began to feel as though moments like this were the whole point of the exercise. Like the book was mainly about its own cleverness. Which is not a criticism of the writing or the author. I find this to be pretty typical of literary fiction.  A lot of people, including many teens, love adult literary fiction. I am not one of these people, so when I had plodded my way through to page 125 (about 1/3 of the way through-this book is looong), and decided it was time to go wax my eyebrows because I was so bored (this is no joke I really did this), I thought maybe some skipping around to see if reading the rest would be worth my time was necessary. So I read some of the middle (there is a lot of sex) and the end. The end is what did it folks. I was not going to plow my way through that many pages for that ending, which I feel is also typical of lit fic, completely hopeless and inconclusive. Inconclusive I can deal with, hopelessness I can not. 

The connections Peet was trying to make were interesting ones and the story intriguing. The style was not for me though. There are many who have, and will, find it well worth their time and very much enjoy this book.

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