Sunday 9 February 2014

Various Pets Alive and Dead - Marina Lewycka

This is a great book. It is a story told from three perspectives, a Mother and two of her children. On the surface it is a story about their lives over the same time period with a lot of reflections and reminiscing about their past living in a commune. There is also an underlying mystery that the characters still think about and touch upon.

It is a wonderful mix of characters and everyday circumstances with them coming together in very amusing situations. Lewycka always finds a way to bring slightly extravagant characters into slightly surreal situations in the most believable way. The characters are recognisable but not stereotypes, there is a fantastic range of perspectives. The chapters are short and change between characters which again keeps the book and plot moving at pace in the same way that McCall-Smith does with his Scotland Street series.

When you actually stop and think about it the book is about far more than just the lives of a group of people though. It is a look at socialism, society, politics, education and economics. Love is a key theme in the novel and it is explored in so many ways from family, monogomy, lust and even unrequited fascination. I giggled at the philosophy that cheesecake is better then men. It is not a love story, however romance or even a lack thereof, plays a part in the story of each character. One of the characters has Down's syndrome and her story is handled really well. One of the things that I liked was that as a character she was presented as being as flawed as the others. I have read books in the past where the author has seemed afraid to say anything that could be construed as negative in anyway which can feel unrealistic and two dimensional. I think the beauty of having a few different threads is that you find not only characters you can relate to, but also characteristics that you associate with.

Lewycka describes the financial crisis in a simple and effortless way without patronising or talking down to anybody. The use of the Fibonacci number is fascinating and so nicely incorporated. It is used in a similar way to the talk of adhesives in "We are made of glue". The end of this book is perfect and the final chapter is a lovely little twist and while it sums up so may threads beautifully it leaves a few questions open a little, which is a great touch as it leaves the reader thinking.

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