Everyone seems to love this book. I’ve read nothing but stellar reviews, praising the humor and the writing. And yes, there was a ton of humor and the writing was wonderful. But I didn’t love it. Sorry. I really wanted to.
The story is wonderfully original. In the very first pages, a bald, 17 year old named Alex Woods is detained at customs in Dover in a car with a large bag of marijuana and the ashes of someone called Mr Peterson. A great start, right?
Then we get some backstory: Alex Woods gets hit in the head with an meteorite as a young boy. He’s a bit of a strange boy, and this certainly doesn’t make him any less strange. He develops (and learns to manage) epilepsy, and befriends the doctors and scientists who he comes in contact with. His mother is a bit of a kook — she owns the local tarot shop and is a bit of a hippy. He doesn’t know who his father is, and has very few other friends. Until he meets elderly Mr Peterson, the surly American in their small English town. Alex and Mr Peterson become friends, bonding over classical music, pacifism, and Kurt Vonnegut. And so the first half of the book passes, fairly pleasantly.
In the second half of the book, the story detours quite a bit. It becomes more about the depths of friendship and standing up for what you think is right, no matter what. How friends can actually be family, if you let them. And I actually found this part of the book a bit more interesting, but I still didn’t love it for some reason.
The characters were beautifully drawn. The depiction of small-town British life was a delight. Details of how Alex was a bit of an odd-ball, yet didn’t seem to mind all that much, were great. Extence is clearly a huge talent. But still, I didn’t really enjoy the book. It became something that I would put down and then look at and say “ugh, I really need to finish that”. Not a great sign.
A bit of a spoiler here:
Maybe my issues with the book are personal. My father had Parkinsons and suffered for many years — and Parkinsons is not unlike the disease that afflicts Mr Peterson. By the end, my father could no longer communicate at all, and for a man who made his living talking, this was unbearable for everyone around him to see. I can’t even imagine how horrendous it was for him. Maybe the book was just too close for comfort for me.
End of little spoiler.
While I didn’t love the story, I do think Extence is quite a gifted writer, and I will keep an eye out for his future works.