19. A book that you think is woefully underrated
19?! Already?! I’m going to miss this thing when it’s over 😦
Anyway back to the point and it’s quite a late post from me today for a very special reason. Well two actually:
1. I took a detour on my way home to nip into my (new) local library and pick up a membership card so I can properly participate in this project: http://booknotesproject.wordpress.com/
2. I wanted to wait and write my post when I’d finished reading the book I’m giving the title of “most underrated”: Life! Death! Prizes! by Stephen May.
I haven’t actually finished reading it yet but I’m getting very close, one more session before bed should do it.
I first became aware of Life! Death! Prizes! when it featured in The Underground Book Club which is a free magazine containing the first three chapters of new books. The idea is to promote books by new authors who don’t have the accolades of more established writers. Life! Death! Prizes! actually featured back in April last year but it isn’t until last week when I spied it in Oxfam that I remembered I wanted to read the full thing.
The story is told by Billy whose mum has just died leaving him effectively the sole guardian of his 6-year-old brother Oscar. Sure Oscar’s dad is still around but he’s been worse than useless for most of Oscar’s life and there’s Aunt Toni who wants custody of Oscar but Billy knows that he’s the best thing for his brother.
Billy has an incredibly cynical view of the world, like most teenagers but perhaps with more reason given that his mother was murdered and that in addition to all the problems this has caused in terms of childcare and finances, Billy’s being stalked by the kid who killed his mum.
I love this book because it’s bitter yet amusing, heartbreaking yet hopeful. The story is mostly of billy’s day-to-day life, nothing extraordinary just a cycle of work, home and the occasional trip to Oscar’s school or the local shop. But woven into this there are episodes from his childhood and the life of Aidan Jebb – the boy who killed Billy’s mum.
The characters are all people you or I probably encounter in our everyday lives and that’s the thing about the whole story, it could be about any of us. Much as I enjoy fantasy and often read to escape real life, I also greatly appreciate writers who can capture reality and show the strength and humour of everyday people and situations.
Life! Death! Prizes! (so named because Billy reads a lot of the trashy magazines which feature dramatic stories of life and death while offering prizes on every other page, think Chat, OK!, Bella etc.) was shortlisted for the Costa Novel Award but has failed to bring home any prizes home itself but I think May probably has a glittering future ahead of him (this was his second novel, I hope to find a copy of his first TAG soon) which is why I’m nominating Life! Death! Prizes! as “woefully underrated”.