REVIEW: Boo (Neil Smith)

51w+8ffFO+L._SX323_BO1,204,203,200_Encapsulate the book in one sentence?

Curious Incident meets A Matter of Life and Death.

Intriguing, tell me more.

Oliver Dalrymple, a somewhere-on-the-spectrum teenager recently deceased, arrives in an odd afterlife where he is left to decode the confusing mysteries of both human interaction, and his own demise.

Personal Choice, Book-Pot, Re-read…?

Years ago, on a trip to London in my late teenage years, I discovered two books in Foyles: Postsecret and Bang Crunch by Neil Smith. I read both in the gardens of Buckingham Palace, in bright sunshine. I adored both books. To this day, I read Postsecret every weekend; it was only when I saw Boo on the shelves of my local indie bookshop (who I have a sneaking suspicion only stock attractively-covered hardbacks) I was shocked to realise how bloody long it has taken a follow-up to Bang Crunch to arrive. I bought it immediately.

What genre would you say it is?

It’s a coming-of-age novel, told through a fantastical filter which is basically my favourite type of novel. This isn’t a book that’s overly preoccupied with the mechanics of the metaphysical; although the world of Boo’s afterlife is clearly delineated, it’s construction is used for pathos rather than supernatural adventure. At its heart it’s about a boy learning to negotiate the complicated pathways of his adolescence, and come to terms with trauma.

Did you finish it? Did it work for you?

I did and it did! For the first twenty-five pages or so I was worried; Boo begins as such a disassociated, analytical voice and the opening of the story concerns the establishing of a world, and so for that first handful of pages I found it hard to engage. And then Johnny joins the novel, Boo’s volatile classmate who is obsessed with finding ‘Gunboy’, the youth they believe shot them, and the book takes off, weaving a delicate story that is blackly funny, packing both emotional heft and two (!) surprising turns that I didn’t see coming before pulling everything expertly to a hopeful, perfect ending.

Give me a good quote:

From my favourite scene, in which some of the ‘gommers’ (those who were murdered) act out their deaths at a gathering:

“For once in my short little life, I wasn’t fat enough,” Thelma says, slipping the noose around her neck. “The branch held.”

Then the lights go out completely. We hear footsteps as the actors move offstage. Beside me, Esther whispers, “Is it over? Can I open my eyes.”

But it is not over. A voice onstage starts singing. It is Thelma. She is still there.

The song she chose is on of your favourites, Mother and Father. It is a Billie Holiday song about bulging eyes, twisted mouths, and the blood on leaves. It is a song about hanging from a poplar tree.

Bad reviews? What do you mean, bad reviews?

(I like to read bad reviews of books I like. Everyone’s entitled to their opinions and this section isn’t meant as mean-spirited, but as an author it’s bad form to respond to your own reviewers. No-one said anything about other people’s.)

“Too much language..even if they put an * in the middle of the word, its still profanity. I know what they’re saying.” Must have a hard time out there in the world! Plus I suspect the stars are intended as part of the character’s voice, rather than an actual desire to protect it’s fragile readers from the (very infrequent) swearing.

– “Can we please have a moratorium on autism-spectrum characters, especially kids?” Indeed, literature is overflowing with them.

– “This book was not at all what I was expecting it to be.” That is not a reason for a bad review. Stop it. Review the book you read, not the book it turned out not to be.

– “In the audiobook version, they spell out all of the swear words. This made my skin crawl.” That does sound awful, actually.

Is it available today?

‘Tis indeed.

Soundtrack of choice: 

Waltz 1 by Elliott Smith.


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