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Thursday, 3 May 2012

2012 IMPAC Dublin Literary Award Shortlist – Rocks in The Belly – Jon Bauer

As we know the nominees for this award come from Public Libraries throughout the world. This novel was nominated by a single library, the State Library of Victoria in my home town of Melbourne, however don’t worry I do not have a bias here.

This one has left me in a real quandary, at stages I was entranced and couldn’t put the book down, at other times I was enraged and wanted to throw it across the room, and even at one stage I was going to give up. But one thing is certain the story haunts your thoughts and you spend large chunks of your non reading time thinking about the main character.

Many times in recent years we have examples of authors using a child’s voice to tell their tale (think “Pigeon English”, “Room”, “Vernon God Little” and “Paddy Clarke Ha Ha Ha” from the Booker lists), this novel has a twenty-eight year old flashing back to his eight year old days (roughly in alternate chapters) as our main protagonist. He’s back home to visit his dying mum, who was a foster mother, bitter about the lack of love and support that he received as a youngster whilst Mum gave her all to a foster kid call Robert.  

I found the eight year old voice quite convincing in the early stages, somewhat less so in later ones, the 28 year old voice less convincing in a lot more passages, but then again that could be that I personally thought the grown up character to lack compassion, basic human tendencies and more, but isn’t that the case when you feel like you’ve been neglected as a child? Maybe the voice is convincing after all? Maybe he has never truly grown up?

This novel throws up question after question and not all are easy to confront. On that front it reminds me a bit of “The Slap” by Christos Tsiolkas in the way it could polarise readers.  This is a certainty to do the rounds of book clubs as the discussions could go on or hours and hours.

Worthy award winner? Probably not, but one I would recommend as it will either infuriate you or you’ll love it.

Publisher’s comment on Award website:

Rocks in the Belly is about a precocious eight-year-old boy and the volatile adult he becomes. During childhood his mother fosters boys, despite the jealous turmoil it arouses in her son. Jealousy that reaches unmanageable proportions when she fosters Robert, an amiable child she can’t help bonding with. Until the bond triggers an event that profoundly changes everyone. Especially Robert.
At twenty-eight the son returns to face his mother. He hasn’t forgiven her for what happened to Robert. But now she’s the dependent one and he the dominant force — a power he can’t help but abuse.
Written in two startlingly original voices, Rocks in the Belly is about the destruction we wreak on one another in the pursuit of our own happiness; how we never escape our upbringing; and a stark reminder that the most dangerous place for a child is within the family.
A compelling, powerful, and yet beautiful and funny novel.


Anonymous said...

I just finished reading this myself and really liked it. I enjoyed the 8 year old voice better than the adult one and the father was a great character. You mention you thought about giving up on it; was it the material the book deals with or the pace of the story? It would have been interesting to delve more into the mind of the protagonist but, as it is written in the first person and we are effectively dealing with the mind of a child, it would have been impossible to do. Glad you reviewed this one. I look forward to your review on 'The Matter with Morris'.

Tonymess said...

I don't want to leave spoilers in reviews so without giving anything away, the part after his mother goes to the hairdresser infuriated me no end - I couldn't justify his actions in anyway and there was no explanation for his behaviour. I'm reading them in alpha order by author so "The Matter With Morris" is the one I've just started - love the first 30 pages.