Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Captured in Amber (Books - The Anatomy School by Bernard MacLaverty)

It's not as if I didn't have enough books started, but when I came home last night after dinner out and a walk around the hot, humid city, none of them seemed right. I had found Bernard MacLaverty's Grace Notes a detailed and imaginative read and his The Anatomy School has also been sitting on the to-be-read-before-the-end-of-summer pile, so...

'Father Farquahrson's a bit...' Martin searched for a word that wouldn't be rude, '...boring.'

'Very well.' His mother spoke in a clipped I've-nothing-more-to-say-to-you voice. She put the top on the sandwich and sliced it into four triangles. 'Crusts on or off?'

'The way they are.' She took the waxed paper from around the loaf and folded up the sandwiches.

'Just because your mother chooses to do things a little better than anybody else...' The queen of the unfinished sentence. 'But that doesn't suit the like of our Martin. Oh no, he'd prefer to scorn things that are just that wee bit better...Mary Lawless doesn't stand up for you any more. She used to worship the ground you walked on. And Nurse Galliland says you're a changed boy. Being seventeen doesn't suit you.'

'I thought you liked change,' he said.

Being seventeen doesn't suit many of us and Martin is having to do a year over, having failed his exams. He is smart enough to know that he doesn't know much and is contemplating the priesthood. He goes on a silent retreat with several other boys from his school to observe Easter and to discover whether he has it in him. There has yet to be anything remarkable in the events of this novel but MacLaverty's captures the dialogue between teenage boys, and the relationships between them and their authority figures - parents, teachers, priests - with a wicked accuracy. As in Grace Notes, MacLaverty observes for us just the right everyday details so that you know who people are not through explanation but through their behavior.
MacLaverty thinks like an actor, taking pleasure in entering the lives of others wholly - their body rhythms, their opinions, and their actions - not just selling us the most attractive ones, but taking them all on. The characters in these novels are not types, they're people whom we seem to know in an instant, it's as though he has captured the stuffy Latin professor, the loving but unsure widowed mother, the distracted and thoughtful high school student, and frozen them in amber just as they are doing something characteristic. I am finding The Anatomy School a very amusing read and a good antidote to the equally amusing but relentlessly cynical The Lazarus Project.

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