Thursday, July 5, 2012

Book Review: The Boy Who Fell to Earth

By Becky Gulc

I was excited to receive a review copy of Kathy Lette’s latest novel, "The Boy Who Fell to Earth." I’d read and enjoyed a couple of Kathy’s older novels, but admittedly, Kathy had fallen off my reading radar for a while. I’d seen Kathy on television promoting the book and talking about her eldest son’s Asperger's syndrome, which has been an inspiration for the novel, it sounded like it would be an interesting and informative piece of fiction with Kathy’s usual non-stop humour thrown in to lighten the load. My day job is in social research and I get to talk to a lot of parents of children with disabilities and additional needs, so whilst I have a certain level of understanding of conditions on the autistic spectrum, it’s always been an area I’ve wanted to learn a bit more about, but perhaps in a non-academic way. This book sounded perfect for me, especially as it promised a bit of dating trials and tribulations with it, which is always fun. Here is the full synopsis:

‘Meet Merlin. He's Lucy's bright, beautiful son - who just happens to be autistic.

Since Merlin's father left them in the lurch shortly after his diagnosis, Lucy has made Merlin the centre of her world. Struggling with the joys and tribulations of raising her eccentrically adorable yet challenging child, (if only Merlin came with operating instructions) Lucy doesn't have room for any other man in her life.

By the time Merlin turns ten, Lucy is seriously worried that the Pope might start ringing her up for tips on celibacy, so resolves to dip a poorly pedicured toe back into the world of dating. Thanks to Merlin's candour and quirkiness, things don't go quite to plan... Then, just when Lucy's resigned to a life of singledom once more, Archie - the most imperfectly perfect man for her and her son - lands on her doorstep. But then, so does Merlin's father, begging for forgiveness and a second chance. Does Lucy need a real father for Merlin - or a real partner for herself?’
(Synopsis from Kathy Lette’s website)

For those who don’t know much about Asperger's who better to provide a quick summary than Kathy herself:

"It's a little bit like raising a Martian who speaks Swahili at times because they don't read emotions very well. People with Asperger's have no filter and tend to say what they are thinking. Like the time my son asked his intimidating headmaster what he wrote on his driver's licence for hair colour, being completely bald? Or enquired of a leather-clad bikie if he'd ever noticed that his chin looked like upside-down testicles?" (courtesy of The Australian Women’s Weekly)

The book oozes personal experience of parenting a child with Asperger’s which is far from straightforward, and it is very much delivered from a parent perspective, not Merlin’s. Lucy has to fight to try and secure Merlin the education he deserves, but she has to laugh along the way or she will do nothing but cry. As Merlin says what he thinks, there are some very comical moments in this book. Lucy isn’t going to find dating easy with Merlin telling each date (and sometimes their children) exactly what he’s thinking, sometimes the obvious, sometimes seemingly random, particularly when he’s going through puberty. Lucy finds it difficult enough to hold down her teaching job never mind adding a boyfriend into the mix.

‘I hugged Merlin to me, glowering at him in the hope that he would understand my body language and shut the hell up. ‘Oh look, Merlin’ – I fingered his soft face – ‘you’re growing a moustache.’

My son gave me a measured, objective once-over. ‘Well, so are you,’ he said, matter-of-factly.

I could have deep-fried chips on my cheeks. ‘I’ve told you a million times, don’t exaggerate,’ I joshed desperately.

Once more, my son turned his studious countenance towards me. ‘I’m not exaggerating. Look. See all the hairs on your top lip? There’s millions of them. You have one or two on your chin as well.’

‘If only I’d taken a tip from mother nature and eaten my young.’ I laughed a little too loudly. The slight age gap between Octavian and me suddenly widened into a Grand Canyon chasm.

‘You must be the one she doesn’t have anything in common with, who has a good sex drive,’ Merlin continued, oblivious to my distress. ‘Although I’m not sure what that means...Does that mean you drive here for sex with my mother?’

Gin and tonic spurted out of my nose.’

I love Kathy’s humour, so I just loved the humour in this book. For any aspiring authors who struggle with coming up with your own with metaphors and similes, I definitely recommend Kathy’s work for showing how one author can produce the goods again and again. There’s no reinventing the same old wheel in here (oh, see how easy it is to just write the same old?!). I’ve read other reviews which have been quite critical of the non-stop one liners in this book, yes, it is pretty incessant humour, but it drew me in completely, I whizzed through this book, I didn’t think it could maintain the humorous momentum it started out with, but it did. The constant witty remarks and come backs might not be to everyone’s taste though, but for me personally my only niggle with this was that every character pretty much delivered the same sarcastic humour and one-liners, even Lucy’s dastardly ex at points, I would have preferred the humour to have remained with Lucy really as it fitted with her personality.

I warmed very much to the central characters and the twists and turns regarding Lucy’s relationship with her ex husband; it kept me guessing throughout, and shouting at her that she deserved better!

I saw a video clip of Kathy mentioning how her son loves the book and considers anything which destigmatises Asperger’s to be a good thing; I can’t help but agree, it is a book with humour and purpose, but still fits well with Kathy’s usual target audience. Take it for what it is, still chick lit, offering something a bit different and shedding some light on a condition that affects many families and you can’t go wrong. It’s not a book that should be taken over seriously for facts and guidance, there will be other books out there for that; it is heartfelt fiction by a famously comic writer. I enjoyed it!

More by Kathy Lette:

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