Tuesday 14 June 2011

A bit of Joanne Harris

Blue Eyed Boy by Joanne Harris.
Joanne Harris is a consummate story teller and I have enjoyed her books before (Lollipop Shoes in 2009) so was quite confident picking this one to listen to, and I was not disappointed. It is like her other books that I have read but also very unlike. Her stories are full of enjoyment of the senses and this one is no exception. In 'Five Quarters of the Orange', which I read a few years ago, the emphasis was very much on scent, and 'Chocolat' of course is all about taste. In Blue Eyed Boy the main character has synesthesia, where sensory impulses are confused by the brain, so, for example, words might have smells or colours. The book is written in the form of online journal entries, some of which are 'private', others of which are 'public', including comments made by readers, and which are presented as being works of fiction. So, Blue Eyed Boy writes for us the story of his childhood, his murderous intent towards people who have upset or merely irritated him, and the story of Emily White and what became of 'The Emily Phenomenon'. What I loved most was the way that you never knew which bits were actually a true telling of the tale and which bits were part of the twisted imagination of BB (as he is known). He cleverly makes you think you know something and then you discover that all you thought you knew was utter invention. The relationship between BB and his Ma is also twisted and unpleasant, both sucking the life out of each other, and you are never sure how much of that is true because we never get Ma's side of the story. There is a little bit of a Cluedo thing going on with Mrs White and Mrs Green and Professor Peacock, though the only suspect is really BB himself, and you never quite have enough information to be sure enough to make an accusation. A brilliant story with endless twists and turns, BB playing the puppet-master to all the goings on, at least he thinks he is, and you think he is, but at the finale the reader is left precariously dangling. Excellent stuff.

'Jigs and Reels' has been my bus book since last week, and though I have read it before I have enjoyed the stories very much. I almost think her short stories are better because she has the perfect method; draw you in, give you an intriguing character and a strange dilemma, give you just enough line to get you hooked ... and then leave you hanging at the end, without a certain ending but enough information for you to finish it in your head. Several are based around society's obsession with appearances and celebrity, a couple are slightly creepy or futuristic. The one I really like is 'Tea with the Birds' about a quiet young woman who becomes obsessed with a japanese man next door who, it turns out, carves exquisite birds out of vegetables; a lovely example of how an encounter with someone different from yourself can change your outlook on life. She also makes an interesting little comment at the start of each story about what inspired her or caused her to write it, I like it when writers let you in to their world a little.

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