Thursday, May 12, 2011

Me and Mr Booker by Cory Taylor

This edition published by Text in 2011.

Sixteen-year-old Martha meets Mr and Mrs Booker when her mother throws a party. The Bookers are young, British, eccentric and just a little bit glamorous. Martha is stuck in a going-nowhere town and not really sure what she wants to do with her life. All she knows is that she must get out, away from her crazy father Victor and her well-intentioned if submissive mother. And then Mr Booker kisses her. What happens next feels like it could just be the beginning of the rest of her life.
Yes, it is a coming-of-age story and an old idea, but it works. Me and Mr Booker reads very much like a young adult novel pace-wise, but the content is a bit risque for a YA audience. There is a kind of knowingness to Me and Mr Booker which, for me, places it in the realm of adult fiction. When I first started reading it reminded me so much of An Education (which I loved), but there is such a unique voice at work here, such a sly, wry, affectionate look into the turmoil of adolesence and burgeoning adulthood. Me and Mr Booker achieves such a perfect mix of cheekiness and poignancy that above all feels completely natural and authentic – I loved the tone of the book.
All the characters in this book spring from a kind of inner unease, a quiet despair over that age old question ‘how are we to live?’ Forgive me for using that kind of cliche (bleh!) but I think it is really suitable here. The characters are a study in being bored and lonely but without really the means or desire to be anything but. These people are trying to fill their lives with something that gives it meaning, so we get Mrs Booker wanting a baby, Mr Booker and his alcohol, Victor pursuing a dead-end relationship with Martha’s mother because he’s chasing an idea about what will make him happy, because it is at least something to have as his. And then we get Martha and her Mr Booker.
These two are really as hopeless as each other but I found it hard to do anything but love and sympathise with them. Mr Booker rarely shows anything but a facade of himself; everything is theatrical, designed to gloss over what’s really going on underneath. This makes him a wonderfully fascinating and flawed character.Very sparingly Taylor lets us take a peek into what depth might be underneath Mr Booker’s charm and we understand why ‘he to the hill of his undoing pursued his road.’ As seen through Martha’s eyes,  his relationship with Mrs Booker is also a wonderful, touching example of the blind leading the blind, or as I like to think of it, affectionate hate.
And then Martha – absolutely loved her. She has some great lines. I read elsewhere that she was perhaps written too old for her age, but I think she is spot on, and her sarcasm is exactly like I remember talking as a teen. Martha’s voice is wrought with adolescent troubles, but Taylor keeps her wry and smart and in control all the time. She really carries the book – we understand that she is trying to avoid ending up in the same place as her own parents. I absolutely believed her and all the other characters and their motivations.
Sharply observed, fast-paced and funny, with some great lines and dialogue. The writing is simple and elegant and you get caught up in it because you know that despite this simplicity and matter-of-fact tone there is a whole lot of other stuff going on underneath. Seriously, some of Mr Booker’s and Martha’s lines are just so spot on and hilarious. And Taylor also has some prose moments that are just beautiful, hitting the right emotion without any need of flowery sentiment.
I thought Me and Mr Booker was wonderful – although suitable more for adults and mature YA readers. Smart, funny and sad, and one of the best coming-of-age titles I’ve read in a while. It also reminds us that yes, Martha may be a teen in way out of her depth, but who really is to blame when all around her the adults are acting like kids?

1 comment:

  1. As a massive fan of An Education, I think I'll be picking this one up.
    Thanks for the review!