Saturday, December 22, 2012

Me and Mr Booker by Cory Taylor (2010)

Me and Mr Booker is the debut novel from Australian writer Cory Taylor. It is the coming-of-age tale of 16-year-old Martha, whose parents have recently divorced and who feels like she is waiting for her life to begin:

It told them about my mother and father.
‘They broke up,’ I said. ‘So now I am emotionally scarred for life. At least that’s my excuse.’
‘For what?’ said Mrs Booker.
‘I don’t know,’ I said. “It hasn’t happened yet.”

The novel opens with Martha meeting Mr and Mrs Booker at an open house party that her mother throws. She begins an intense friendship with the pair, who ‘adopt’ her (they are having trouble conceiving any children of their own), and an affair with Mr Booker. The beginning of the novel is its strength as Taylor captures perfectly the ennui of being 16; feeling trapped and if you are waiting for your life to begin as well as the heady emotions that come from first-time adolescent love. The start of Me and Mr Booker is really fantastic and very engaging.

Unfortunately, after the strong start, the novel just peters out. About midway through the book, the characters who were engaging and provided a strong incentive to turn the pages just get a bit blah, as if Taylor has lost interest in them. It was like her impetus to finish the novel had vanished but she still had a contract with a publishing company that she was obliged to finish, so she pushed on but just didn’t care that much. Elements of the book, like the tension evident in the relationship between Martha’s and her brother Eddie as well as her brother and her father Victor, were hinted at and then never developed or explored. I feel like this book had so much potential but just didn’t reach the heights that it could have, which is disappointing given Taylor’s obvious writing talent.

The most disappointing part of this book was the really poor research. I think it’s supposed to be set in the early ‘70s, so we have references to Five Easy Pieces (1970), the Rolling Stones’ Ruby Tuesday (1967) and the Beatles’ Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Heart’s Club Band (1967). However, Martha’s relative marries a gay Asian man so she can have a baby and both the homosexuality and miscegenation, two issues that would have been a Very Big Deal in the early ‘70s, were just mentioned matter of factly. It’s a big enough deal at the start of the book when Martha’s parents separate that her best friend isn’t allowed to play with her anymore but then the divorce scandal is not worth a mention for the remainder of the book? And I strongly question the likelihood of a regional university having a specialist film studies university teacher, although in all fairness maybe it was easier for a new discipline like film studies to become established in a regional university than in a major metropolitan university that was more fixed in its ways. The constant questioning the veracity of the period setting had a jarring effect and disrupted my reading experience.

Reading back over what I have written this sounds like a negative review, but really there’s a lot to like about this book. I will definitely be looking out for Cory Taylor’s next novel.

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