Posts Tagged ‘Rosie’

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There are times when comfort, familiarity and ease are, actually, exactly what you need; at other times, by all means, challenge me, make me confront my preconceptions, subvert my genres in different ways. When I’m tired, poorly and stressed, however, enfold me in familiar settings, tropes and – hell, yes – even the comfort of overused clichés.

And, that is broadly speaking what The Boy on the Bridge, Carey’s prequel to The Girl With All The Gifts, offers.

Having read the original, the concept of the world in which the Cordyceps fungus has infected the human race, creating the familiar post-apocalyptic environment of zombie hungries, plucky scientists and gung-ho soldiers. Carey’s tale occurs ten years after the fungus pathogen emerged, turning the majority of the population into “hungries”, motivated purely by a desire to eat fresh raw meat and with enhanced speed, strength and endurance. It takes place in a Britain where London has fallen and humanity has retreated to the coastal defences of Beacon or has become “junkers”, marauding through the ravaged landscape stealing, raping and turning cannibalistic. All of which, however, is very much in the background: just like the original novel, Carey focuses on a small group of people, in this case, a team of scientists, accompanied by a team of soldiers, who are travelling the length of Britain in the Rosaline Franklin, which is essentially the bastard child of a tank and a science lab and a submarine. The purpose of the journey is a little weak – ostensibly to collect samples left in a variety of places and to perform a range of dissections – but is really just to isolate a group of characters in a hostile environment.

And who do we have in the field? Colonel Carlisle, an adherent to the military chain of command who clashed with the authorities in Beacon before the novel; McQueen, the trigger happy rebellious soldier; Samrina Khan, a motherly and reasonable scientist; Steven Greaves, a child savant on the autistic spectrum; Dr Fournier, the cowardly and pusillanimous civilian commander, more than open to being manipulated by the powers back in Beacon. Plus a range of generally dispensible others. Had this been Star Trek, they’d have been in red shirts. Nothing original, nothing challenging and the trope of the genius autistic child is so overdone. Greaves is more credible and engaging that Wesley Crusher, – and has a more plausible conclusion – but only barely. Familiar enough tropes, rubbing against each other in ways which will be familiar to anyone used to film or television or comic books – a genre in which M. R. Carey writes. Conflict, betrayals, reconciliations and accommodations are made.

As readers of The Girl with All the Gifts will no doubt suspect, the Rosalind Franklin’s crew encounter a group of children, second generation hungries where an accommodation has evolved between the human and hungry: enhanced, hungry but also capable of thought and communication and social life. Conflict with the children becomes something else by the end of the novel and Carey successfully shifts our sympathies from humanity – who generally come across as venal, selfish and flawed – to the children… but that itself comes as no surprise to readers familiar with the first novel.

The strongest part of the novel, in my opinion, occurs in the Epilogue, twenty years after the main narrative and perhaps a decade after the events of The Girl with All the Gifts when Carlisle – now in a mountain fortress – confronts a cadre of children who have scaled the mountain in search of the last remnants of humanity. Led by a familiar character. I have to say, I was surprised by how effective that conclusion was.

Well played, Mike Carey. Well played.

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There are some great books that I’ve read over the years.

Neither this, nor it’s predecessor, The Rosie Project, belong in that category.

There are, however, other mental categories into which I file books and this did fall into one labelled silly-books-I’ve-read-extracts-of-to-my-wife and this does fall into that category. It is predictable; it follows an inconceivably tortuous plot. But it’s fun, sweet – bitter-sweet -and, despite misgivings about the portrayal of Don Tillman as someone on an autistic spectrum with mental health issues, you find yourself rooting for him.

The first book concluded with Don Tillman finding love with the eponymous Rosie; the second book takes place a year after their marriage and – nature having taken its natural course – Rosie announces that she is pregnant. The novel tracks the ne t nine months as Don prepares to be a father.

Maybe, having been through that process myself aided my own empathy with Don. Mind you, I don’t recall being arrested, referred to social workers or anger management groups, lesbian mothers or suspected of terrorism. Nor do I think that my reaction to her pregnancy jeopardised the marriage. I don’t think it did.

Admittedly I don’t quite have Don Tillman’s problems. Simsion tries to avoid any special if it diagnosis of the character but he certainly displays a social anxiety and social difficulties comparable to the autistic spectrum; he also generates a wide and eclectic group of friends.

Reading the novel is a little like stepping into the world of American sitcoms: The Big Bang Theory, How I Met Your Mother, Friends… Entertaining, silly and escapist. Various views of men, women, genetics, monogamy and sex were raised by different characters – some of which were pretty shallow to be frank – but the characters had a warmth to them which ameliorated any distaste

I did have one problem: Rosie. Despite her eponymous nature and the fact that her relationship with Don is the plot of the book, she seemed curiously absent and distant. Locked in another room with her thesis. Attending college. Away from the focus of the narrative. We barely heard her. I think more people reported her words than she had lines of dialogue. And the only real description we had of her was “perfect” and “red hair”.  Oh well… it’s a new year, so let’s be generous and assume that Simsion did so deliberately so as to reflect Rosie’s experience of Don for the reader.

The conclusion to the novel seemed a little rushed and contrived but the arc of the story was never really a mystery. It was one of those novels where you could switch your brain off, enjoy the silliness and not really mind that in the real world people just don’t act like that!

Well, that was a quick read!

I was browsing various book lists with a view to spending some Christmas money and The Guardian’s Independent Bookshop review of 2013 cropped up with this book.

It is, at heart, a romance novel which is certainly not a usual genre for me. The main character, Don Tillsen in a genetics professor; he is searching for a wife; an entirely unsuitable woman, in this case the eponymous Rosie, crosses his path.

The predictable course of such novels progresses: obstacles appear; problems are overcome; wrong turns are taken… The predictable solution occurs.

What drew me to the book were two factors: firstly, I wanted a change from the rather horror and fantasy based reading that I’ve been in recently; and secondly the main protagonist, Don, has Aspergers and Autistic Spectrum traits. As my daughter also has such traits, and I teach many children who display them too, I was interested.

In fact, the review from The Guardian had mentioned a customer’s comment that

all teachers should be made to read it to give them a better understanding of students with this syndrome. Another customer has simply told us that is the only book that has made her laugh out loud all year.

I’m not quite sure how successful the portrayal of Don Tillman was. He didn’t seem to encounter as many difficulties and problems as a true ASD or OCD or Bipolar sufferer might and those he did encounter seemed to be overcome with relative ease in comparison. These are serious, deeply difficult and life-threatening conditions which rip apart families and they were treated – in my humble opinion – just a tad lightly and light heartedly.

And there was a familiarity to the structure of the story: Don Tillman could have stepped from the the script of The Big Bang Theory, sharing many traits of Sheldon Cooper; his best friend Gene, equally, could have come from How I Met Your Mother being an almost carbon copy of Barney Stinson. Having a teenage bit at home for whom both these generic American sitcoms (even on the third, sixth, twentieth re-run) is compulsory, unless I put my foot down to watch The Great British Bake Off, this is familiar but somewhat two-dimensional territory.

There were some opportunities for genuinely painful moment – Gene’s open marriage and it’s impact on his wife for example – which were only tangentially touched on. Maybe that’s a reflection of Don’s single mindedness but, as a reader, I would have been more interested in exploring that.

However, it was a decent read: entertaining, funny in places, sweet. It’s ending was predictable and just a little too easy somehow but I did care about the characters and wanted them to be together.

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