Sunday, 1 January 2017

The Smell of Other People's Houses by Bonnie-Sue Hitchcock

I wrote this blog post yesterday evening, after a promise to myself that I would start writing it again in the New Year.  It being New Year's Day, I felt it was a little early to break a resolution, so a post, any post must be written.  If I were to mark the original post (green pen, natch), it would say "please re-read, and preferably re-write, when you are not suffering from the ill effects of sloe gin and cassis flavoured fizz.  This does not represent your best work." So that it what I am now doing.  My actual marking will have to wait a little longer.

I'm not entirely sure that my emotional response to the end of this book was entirely appropriate or proportionate, due to my tired and emotional state.  Either way, I finished my first book of 2017, and it was utterly brilliant.

It's for secondary school age children - there is death, teen pregnancy and domestic violence, but it isn't violent or particularly hard hitting.  It's set in Alaska in 1970, and although I've never been to Alaska, and wasn't around in 1970, the reader gets a very strong sense of place and community. It's narrated through several different characters, but this doesn't make it disjointed, as they are all woven into the narrative seamlessly. Apparently, it started from an exercise at a writing class which was "write about the smell of other people's houses".  And it is a little bit about that, but it's about an awful lot more too.

The only criticism I would have, is that it's about as accurate about what teenage love is like as Stephenie Meyer's Breaking Dawn, except instead of vampires, there are broken-hearted floppy-haired gorgeous runaway indie boys.  In this book, all you have to do to make one of said boys fall in love with you is be a bit intuitive, good at ballet and fishing, or be pregnant and look a bit sad.  I'm pretty sure young love is not actually that simple.  And I say this as somebody, who, seventeen years ago around this time, feel instantly in love with a floppy haired gorgeous indie boy, and, as it felt at the time, but some miraculous aligning of the planets, he liked me too.  I call it love at first sight, because it paints me in a MUCH better light than "the first time I saw him he was so impossibly gorgeous, funny and lovely that I went home and dumped my boyfriend", which makes me sound a LOT more shallow. So I'll stick with love at first sight, and that is what I shall be telling my grandchildren thank you very much.

Therefore if even I think it's ludicrously unrealistic about young love, then it definitely is.  I have given A the book to read, but with the above warning (taking out the bits that make her mother sound shallow, obv). I hope that one day she will remember the first time she ever saw the love of her life, and remember the first words he ever said to her ("is this seat taken?"  "NO. NOT NOW NOT EVER, SIT THERE AND NEVER MOVE") but I realise that this is not everyone's experience. And actually, the first flush of excitement, however exciting and wonderful it is does get a little dulled by everyday routines and having to organise children and money and tax and going to the tip and other crap things you (usually) don't have to do when you're 20.

But, hey, it's a lovely book.  Don't judge it by its romanticised version of life. Sometimes we all need a little bit of unlikely and miraculous love in our lives, and if we need to get that from a novel, then so be it.

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