Friday, March 8, 2013

The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion

I love this book. It borders on chic lit and I was worried that I'd be teased for going a bit gooey. I got the same feeling when I read Bridget Jones or watched "Love Actually". But some how this is so much better than this. The main character is beautiful, he's a real geek, an aspersers syndrome science geek. He is no Mr D'arcy. Now Don Tillman is a professor of genetics who realises that he's different to everyone else, but sees it as the rest of the world acting illogically rather than the problem lying with him. It seems relationships are a mystery so he decides to approach the issue of finding a wife in as scientific a manner as possible, by means of a detailed questionnaire to weed out the kind of women he doesn't want. He's very pedantic and driven, but he's not as obnoxious as say, Sheldon Cooper of Big Bang Theory. He has his laugh out loud moments spurred on by his purity - moments like blurting out in a lecture "We'll now hear from the large overweight woman in the back row." Yes, subtly is someone else's game. Yet at the end the need to be part of our universe, the one of regular humans drives him to develop a survey, much like a science project, to weed out the women he doesn't want and get to the essence of his desire: the perfect breeding machine for Don (cue silhouette of a woman in a bright neon halo!). Then along comes our protagonist, Rosie who naturally, ticks all the wrong boxes, but is somehow strangely attractive and for her own reasons just won’t go away.

I wondered if I was the right audience for this - so I went surfing to test my masculinity on this subject - One reader gushed : "I enjoyed this book so much that I read it in a couple of big gulps (would have been one big gulp, but sometimes work just gets in the way) and then was sorry that it was over so quickly. A couple of weeks after finishing it I’m still thinking about it from time to time and wondering what might be happening to the characters, which is always a sign of a wonderful book. I’d love to read more about Don and Rosie and would definitely buy a copy of any sequel." Another admitted: "There is no doubt "The Rosie Project" is going to be one of the best feel-good novels of 2013..with it's humour and quirky characters, it's going to find a place in your heart..."

High praise, ladies. Don is a wonderfully drawn character who, despite giving a lecture on Asperger’s syndrome doesn’t see that he fits under his own subject heading. In fact he really sees himself as being entirely logical (think Spock - logical) or as someone who approaches the world in the ideal way. But when he comes up against others who are very different to himself the results range from touching to hilarious (the-disturb-the-lady-next-to-you-on-the-train-laugh- out-loud-variety) . There were moments I should have cringed when Don’s misunderstanding of social expectations and inability to see more than the strict meaning of words puts him in the full path of oncoming embarrassment and social clangery. I felt no sympathy for him. Should I? Perhaps I'm really just evil underneath. Damn you, Graeme Simsion for exposing this flaw in my personality!

The interactivities between Don and Rosie is well done. All characters seem to seamlessly influence each other, for good or bad - a real group and not just a collection of unconnected individuals as so often happens in fiction.

As I said earlier Don is not Darcy, or Sheldon. He's real enough that I might actually know him - another person with individual quirks. And unlike every third novel or tv show these days he doesn’t see him as wrong or broken. Let's not forget that Sheldon is portrayed one-dimensionally. Don is always real and always true to his own rules and view of the world. He also learns and grows as person during the course of the book (but don’t want to give away the plot so won’t say any more on that topic).

The book gently points out that we’re all broken to some extent or other, but that doesn’t mean we can’t find love or friendship. Mmmmm. That all sounds a bit heavy and serious. Down to it though, The Rosie Project is all that but also a light book about big and deep issues. It'll make you laugh and make you learn about yourself as well as about others.

Should blokes read it? Well, yes actually. Like I said before this is not chic lit. It's published in Australia but written by a Kiwi (ok, he lives there). It's about a bloke who's a bit quirky - but hey aren't we all in that way. Most books our wives and girlfriends pass over are about getting guys to understand women. This one is about guys understanding guys in the context of them selves AND women. So yeah, go ahead blocks, crack and tinnie and turn

Friday, March 1, 2013

The Childhood of Jesus by J M Coetzee Text Publishing

The Childhood of Jesus

by J M Coetzee

"The child is silent. For a while he too is silent. Then he speaks. ‘Please believe me—please take it on faith—this is not a simple matter. The boy is without mother. What that means I cannot explain to you because I cannot explain it to myself. Yet I promise you, if you will simply say Yes, without forethought, without afterthought, all will become clear to you, as clear as day, or so I believe. Therefore: will you accept this child as yours?’ "

There have been plenty of books written by authors that have won the Booker Prize. Some, in this writer’s opinion are bolllocks. Does that sound harsh. Does it sound rude. Am I just being an enfant terrible, pushing against those corporate pricks that attach awards to books to sell more product, like movie makers attach their Oscar Nominations, or winemakers attach their show medals. How does the notoriety of one of the world’s most distinguished prizes for literature give any clue as to why you should read this or any prize winning book?

Well, it doesn’t. So what I want you to do is forget that this particular author, J M Coetzee, has won the Booker Prize twice and, 10 years ago, the Nobel Prize for Literature. Clear your mind of the media noise. Pretend you just found this on the shelf, in a plain cover, with no reference points to his great 1999 work Disgrace, or even his latest 2007’s Diary of a Bad Year or even his fictionalised memoir Summertime of 2009.

Well, this is what I did. And this is what I found. The Childhood of Jesus is narrated in present tense, it’s located in no identifiable time or place, and possibly actually in the afterlife. Simón, 45yrs David, aged around 5yrs, turn up at a relocation centre in some undetermined Spanish-speaking country, with nothing but the clothes on their backs, and in search of shelter. David is not Simón’s son, but Simón insists he is his guardian. And so they are placed in an empty hostel room. Simón becomes a dockside worker, hauling grain sacks at the city wharves.

“Why are we here?” asks the boy. “I don’t know what to say,” Simón replies. “We are here for the same reason everyone else is. We have been given a chance to live and we have accepted that chance. It is a great thing, to live.”.

As the book unfolds we learn that their arrival follows a sea voyage which wiped them clean of all memories of their old life. On board, the boy carried a letter in a pouch around his neck, that may have identified his family. Yet this gets lost. Simón, though, is set on tracking down the boy’s mother somehow. David makes friends with a boy called Fidel and a carthorse at the wharves he calls El Rey. Simón strikes up a sexual but low-key relationship with Fidel’s mother, Elena — for in this new country, there is no love, no desire, just goodwill, rationality and a dull, vegetarian diet, to his frustration. Then Simón sees a woman, aged about 30, playing tennis, and he is convinced that she must be David’s mother. Inexplicably, the woman, Ynes, accepts — and takes over Simón’s flat. David is a strange, self-possessed, convinced that he can do anything. At school, his behaviour is considered disruptive and he is sent away to a residential reformatory — but escapes. Simón and Ynes join forces to run away and start a new life in a distant town called Estrellita (Little Star). And there the novel ends, unexplained. This is it. What does it mean. Why is it there. I’m confused.

It’s a puzzling tale presented in the most level way, with much of the narration presented through dialogue. The prose is the clear and flat style that Coetzee has perfected, which can seem artless but is modernity it’s self. It’s like Le Courbusier was with architecture – stark, functional and yet beautiful in its simplicity and cleanliness. Coetzee is the master of spareness and thrif.

One one plain here is the childhood of Jesus, translated to another world. Jesus was of the House of David, of course. This mother, who is yet not his mother, is in some form the Virgin. When David first arrives with Simón, they’re informed “There are no rooms free.” When he witnesses violence at the docks, he tells Simón: “You must never fight” and does not flinch when Simón “feints a slap to his cheek”. When a schoolmaster challenges him to write “I must tell the truth” on the blackboard, he writes instead: “Yo soy la verdad. I am the truth.” (cf. John, 14.6) When the horse, El Rey, is put down, Simón tells David he has gone to another world where there is no more weeping. “ ‘No more weeping,’ says the boy, and perks up, and even gives a jaunty little smile.” (Isaiah 25.8, Revelations 21.4). And on it goes.

In a sense this is Coetzee modus operandi of late. He’s crossing genres: essays become novels; memoirs to fiction. Then again Adelaide 73 year old author has recently men to go into teaching small children. “It will be good for you, good for your soul, to be with small children,” he told his audience. “Most of the people you deal with in your work are not real human beings but shadowy figures playing roles and wearing masks … Children are never anything but their full human selves.” Here, when Simón asks Elena what good is a new life if we are not transfigured by it, she replies that he should take his lead from children who live in the present: “Instead of waiting to be transfigured, why not try to be like a child again?” Alternately, “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never get into the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 18.3).

What I don’t get is what was the point of all this. If the story of Jesus is just a story to provide backfill to the Man that because the scourge of the Romans, The Jewish Priests, the leader of Christians and the hated of other religions then what’s the point. Why reinvent the story. Actually what’s really going on here? Why was this written? Really, tell us - cos I’m lost !

Overall this novel is a lucid, frustrating, confusing, beautiful mess. Or as I said earlier possibly a load of literacy bollocks!