Tuesday, 18 April 2017

Tuesday's Reviews: The Best of Adam Sharp by Graeme Simsion

I read The Rosie Project about a year ago I think and I did quite like it. I wasn't sure I would because a girl at work who really doesn't have the same reading tastes as I do was raving about it. It turned out to be a pretty adorable romantic-comedy. However, I wasn't exactly sure about it's representation of Asperger's. I liked that it showed the potential for love and typical relationships but also felt it was kind of romanticised. In the same way the Manic Pixie Dream Girl trope irritatingly draws up this image of a wild and free young woman who will turn a young man's life upside down, The Rosie Project presented Autism as another thing women should be adding to their lists of desires in a mate; like it was something up there with good sense of humour or ability to put the toilet seat down. I understand that Autism doesn't mean a person can live a "normal" life but I felt that it was treated more like a quirk than a real issue. Whilst The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time explored the consequences of Asperger's The Rosie Project just used it as a gimmick. So I never read the sequel. However, I was intrigued enough by Simsion's writing to be excited by his first non-Don Tilman related novel: The Best of Adam Sharp. It took me a while to get through because I'm easily distracted and useless but I've finally done it.

The Best of Adam Sharp introduces us to Adam Sharp, a middle-aged database expert whose real passion is the piano. He has settled into a comfortable but unremarkable relationship with Claire and the pair live quite happily in their childless existence. Until a blast from Adam's past stirs up some feelings he'd pushed to one side. 20 odd years earlier, Adam was consulting in Australia and, somehow, managed to meet aspiring actress Angelina Brown. They end up having a short-lived but passionate love affair until the pair went their separate ways. Cut to the present day when a single-word email reminds Adam of what he's been missing all of these years.

I picked this novel up without hesitation because I like the themes the narrative is based around. Looking back into your own past and wondering about how different your life could have been is something everyone without the luxury of youth and limited responsibility can understand. Regret and the idea of lost love are universal themes so it seemed that Simsion would be on safe ground. Surely, if his writing in The Rosie Project was anything to go by, he'd be able to bring some humour and fresh insight into the equation. Which, to be fair, he does. This is an often shrewd and funny look at the life of a middle-aged man who has some big questions to ask himself.

The Best of Adam Sharp is not a quaint and happy little read full of nice and good people. This is a long and drawn out story about people who make morally questionable decisions all the time. The characters here feel more real than the ones we meet in The Rosie Project but you will find yourself loving them less. I've seen a lot of GoodReads reviews of this book criticising the awful characters which is super irritating. Real people are dicks. It's much more interesting to read about these character than the non-existent kind who never do or think anything selfish. They are, in the style the author has created in his previous 2 books, very well written and developed. We learn a fair amount about these characters and what makes them tick. You won't always agree with them but, at least, you'll understand them.

My major issue with the novel is the narrative structure and pacing. The first half of the story flits back and forth between Adam's present life and his past with Angelina in Australia. I've never been a fan of these time splits and, here more than ever, it feels kind of grating and unsettling. However, it is in these sections that the narrative itself flies. We learn more about the characters and the mapping out of Adam's two key relationships is beautifully realised. The way Adam relates his memories to the music he was influenced by at the time presents a fantastic theme throughout the book. What Simsion does remarkably well here is understand the deep impact music, and indeed all culture, has on a person's life.

The novel reaches decidedly shaky ground during the second half when, after plenty of soul-searching, Adam goes to stay with his ex and her husband in France. The plot here gets decidedly dicey and falls well into what I can only refer to as soap-opera scenarios. These scenes are definitely the weakest of them all and it feels a little laboured and unnecessary at times. However, it leads to a fantastic finale where the themes finally come together and we all get the payoff we deserve. A lot of people who loved The Rosie Project won't love this book because it isn't all hearts and flowers. It deals with a lot of "grown-up issues" in a darker and more adult way. It tackles difficult questions about regret, desire and love. It introduces us to a flawed man who needs to find the right balance between the love he hears about in songs and the kind of connection that works in the real world. It's not perfect but it's a fantastic read.

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