[DWJ] Best Books of 2006 (complete with silly categories, and much longer than it should be )

Ika Willis blake at gaudaprime.co.uk
Sun Dec 31 09:08:06 EST 2006

Hallie wrote:

> 3) I'd be fascinated to hear how you agree with DWJ's review of PR,
> if you feel like expounding.  I disagreed with almost everything in
> it, and would have wondered if DWJ had even read the same book, had I
> come across that review without knowing DWJ's own history.

The thing about that review is that it put into words an inchoate
feeling I'd been having about a certain *kind* of book, rather than
about PR itself - without the review I might not even have identified
PR as being in that category. But I've always felt there was something
slightly missing in the Casson books, and more so in the case of PR
than Indigo or Saffy (I haven't read Caddy yet because I don't really
believe in her). I do think they're very *beautiful* books, but I
think they're missing something that I call 'counsel' and that DWJ, in
the review, calls 'guidance'.

This is the key bit of the review, for me:

'Children of an orderly home will probably enjoy the chaotic family
life, where Rose can draw on the walls and eat porridge for a random
meal. But I am not sure that children from a dysfunctional background
will enjoy it at all.'

This is something that I've been thinking about for a while now - the
use of real-life dysfunction or drama as a metaphor for experiences
that fall into the more 'normal' bits of the spectrum. Like I love
*The Curious Incident of the Dog In the Night-Time*, partly for the
way I *recognize* the protagonist's feelings about going on a train -
but I don't have Asperger's, and nor does Mark Haddon, and certain
friends of mine with Asperger's relatives *hate* the book. So maybe
the character's condition works as a metaphor for non-Aspergers
people, but not so much as a portrayal of Aspergers. (Which is fine -
I don't think everything has to work for every kind of reader, though
I do prefer books which are piratable by more than one kind of
person.) Or I read a lot of problem novels, and the worst sort are the
ones where the plot ends with the Normal point-of-view character going
'OMG! I have solved the mystery! You act so weird because you are
anorexic/being abused/self-harming! Let's get you some HELP!' Which
only provides narrative closure if you're not identifying with the
Problem character, who of course has known full well all along that
she's anorexic/being abused/self-harming, so it doesn't really solve

Okay, so that's really far from what McKay is doing in the Casson
family books - but there's something a little bit similar in PR, I
think. For readers from dysfunctional families, there *is* (or can be)
something anxiety-provoking about the chaos in Rose's family. And I
don't think that anxiety is assuaged in the book, finally, because the
chaos is being put to a different narrative purpose - one that's
aimed, maybe, at non-dysfunctional readers, who enjoy the chaos and
don't *need* to have their anxiety assuaged or resolved.

Like I say, I wouldn't put it as strongly as DWJ did: I think there's
more guidance in the book than she gives it credit for. But her take
on it did help me explain what I felt was missing from PR, which I'd
only really perceived as a sort of aesthetic distance before.

Love, Ika

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