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

Hallie O'Donovan hallieod at indigo.ie
Sun Dec 31 11:19:58 EST 2006


Thanks for that really wonderful reply, Ika.  It'll probably be 
simmering for a while, but if I don't respond at least partially now, 
I'll never manage to concentrate on what I *should* be reading this 
afternoon.

On the question of dysfunction as metaphor - I think I know what you 
mean, but am not sure I consider either of the books you've mentioned 
as doing that.  The Curious Incident, of course, I can't speak from 
with any insider experience of my own, but the closest friend I have 
with a relative with Asperger's was exactly the opposite: her whole 
family seems to have read and loved TCI, including the boy with it. 
Possibly some of this might relate to the severity of the Asperger's, 
as Christopher is at a pretty extreme end of the Asperger's spectrum.

The thing about Permanent Rose (and the review) is that in many ways 
I'd consider our family quite dysfunctional, in a coping sort of way! 
So, I may have been very strict about bedtimes, and amount of junk 
food and general manners and the like, but I've still felt very like 
Eve, quite often.  (Except I can't paint, even in a garden-shed sort 
of way.) We've had porridge or cereal for dinner on a fairly regular 
basis, the girls have painted on the walls (and I joined them in 
writing on them - great fun), we've a broken home (thankfully most of 
the rain coming in is metaphorical!) with a number of really fairly 
serious mental disorders in various places.  And more to the point 
here, adults have been completely unable to give children what they 
need, when the need was serious, for a variety of reasons.  (In this 
case, the inability wasn't mine, I think I can honestly say.  I was 
at the receiving end of that type of failure myself as a child.  But 
that's a long time ago now!)  My childhood wasn't as nasty as DWJ's, 
and neither were the girls'.  Still, when Becca read the books as a 
mid-teen, and then Cara read them on Becca's persuasion, a bit 
younger, and even when I read them this year - none of us was reading 
them without the ability to *feel* that chaos and anxiety.  Becca was 
the most annoyed of any of us at the review (also the first to read 
it) - because she felt so strongly that the anxiety was assuaged, by 
the ability of the characters to draw friends to themselves, as well 
as their pitching in to look out for each other.

On the other hand, and this certainly isn't a criticism of the book, 
as it is one of my favourite books ever, and ditto for Bec and Cara: 
we found the scene in Bristol in Fire and Hemlock far more 
distressing in many ways.  And Polly seems to be rescued more by a 
bit of timely luck (the Dumas Quartet playing in Bristol) and Gran's 
ability finally to pitch in and take over than anything the Casson 
kids need.

For all I don't think Caddy Ever After is as strong as the other 
three, it did have one part I loved to pieces, and that was Indigo's 
section, in which he looks at Rose and the way she can love really 
hard.  And it's not too sentimental because Rose is still *Rose*, and 
Indigo doesn't have to see her in idealized form to see her 
strengths.  Which maybe IS a good metaphor for the books' portrayal 
of the family, if nothing else.

</overshare>  (This was vetted by both girls, btw - lest anyone think 
it's over-share on their behalf too!)

Hallie


>
>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
>anything.
>
>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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