In my last post, I stated that readers would be hard pressed to realize that Tamar and Life: An Exploded Diagram were written by the same author. Now I’ll go a step further. I’m positive Mal Peet suffers from multiple personalities because I was hard pressed to realize that the first part of Life and the second part were written by the same author.
I almost didn’t read Life because of a bad review I read, but that would have been a grand shame, because it is one of my Top 10 of 2011, which hopefully I’ll get to next week. Part One: Putting Things Together recounts Clem Ackroyd’s life from his birth in 1945 through the early 1960s in England. His father, George, was in the military during World War II and didn’t meet Clem until he was 3 years old. Before that, Clem grew up with his mother, Ruth, and grandmother, Win. Peet is a knowing observer, talking about Ruth and George’s sexless marriage, their rise from poverty to lower middle class, their mindless, unworldy existence. As he ages Clem, he adroitly contrasts his teenage lust with his parents. Clem, a typical teenager, is a sex crazed boy in love with Frankie, daughter of the local manor owner–a couple both of whose parents would frown upon from a ‘class’ standpoint. But they are truly in love. Peet’s cadence in this narrative shifts from totally laid back to highly energized as Clem and Frankie’s passion escalates. Peet’s various characters are unique, extraordinary and loveable.
But, in Part Two: Blowing Things Apart, Peet abruptly shifts to the Cuban Missile Crisis, where he describes (at times tongue-in-cheek, hopefully) President Kennedy and his military advisors, Premier Khrushchev and Fidel Castro. In his Author’s Note, Peet states “Clem Ackroyd is an unreliable historian”, so I’m sure there’s some ‘Author’s License’ in the depiction of these world leaders. However, it is riveting. In this second part there are occasional reversions to Clem and Frankie, but few and far between.
How Peet masterfully intertwines these two stories is not something I want to reveal to you. You must read it for yourself. And, if you’re like me, you may be surprised, saddened and surprised, by Part Three: Picking Up the Pieces. I could not put Life: An Exploded Diagram down. I chuckled. I smiled. I frowned. My emotions ran the gamut. Do yourself a favor. If you’re looking for that great end of year book, pick up Life: An Exploded Diagram by Mal Peet.