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The Way She Reads

My thoughts on everything I read; good, bad and indifferent.
Me and MR Booker - Cory Taylor Copy received from MacMillan through Book Geeks

Martha is sixteen years old, living in a small town where nothing ever happens with parents who are separated, a brother who has moved away and a father who is mad. Martha is waiting for the rest of her life to begin when her mother invites Mr. and Mrs. Booker to a party. The Bookers are a married couple in their thirties who have recently moved from England to Australia. Well aware of the effect she has on men, Martha is not surprised when she notices that he can’t keep his eyes of her. And it isn’t long before Mr. Booker kisses Martha, launching an affair that soon means the world to the teenager but never really has a chance of going anywhere. While her father, Victor, refuses to go away permanently and keeps on upsetting both her mother and Martha, the girl finds herself in a situation where stolen moments with Mr. Booker take turns with continued contact with Mrs. Booker. Lost in an adult world ruled by (too much) alcohol and secrets, Martha is hoping that her lover will leave his wife for her although she is never able to completely convince herself that he might actually do that. And when hope and tragedy visit the Bookers’ in quick succession it spells the end of Martha’s affair and heralds the start of the rest of her life.

Now that I’ve finished reading this book I’m still not sure exactly how I feel about it. It is a short book and a fascinating story. However it is written in a very detached way. Although the story is narrated by Martha herself, she tells it as if it has little to do with her. How emotionally attached she actually was to what was going on in her life has to be found between the lines, in the words the narrator doesn’t use. But that is just the tone of the story. It is impossible for the reader not to realise how emotionally invested Martha was in the affair, and that she at least thought that she loved this man .Since the Martha telling the story is clearly older than the Martha who is at the centre of it, it is quite possible that this tone is used to hide how much the whole episode affected her. And the same is true for the way in which she describes her family life. Her sixteen year old exasperation with her parents at war with the connection she feels with them.

In many ways this is a coming of age story. A young girl falls in love for the first time and has her first sexual experiences at an age where such things make a deep and lasting impression. The heartbreaking part of the story is that in many ways the sixteen-year-old is the grown-up in this story. Between her mad (bio-polar?) father, her needy mother and moody brother Martha doesn’t have a lot of support at home. When an interesting English man twice her age pays her attention she is more than open to his charms. For once she feels like the centre of somebody’s life, even if that somebody is all wrong for her.

A lot of this story can be found in all the things that are not actually told. For example, it is never clear how much or how little the other people in Martha and Mr. Booker’s life know about what is going on between the two of them. Although it seems impossible that they managed to keep their affair a secret from everybody around them, nobody tries to keep them apart, not even Mrs. Booker. Equally, it is never completely clear when exactly this story takes place, although I’d like to say that it is set in the 1960’s or 70’s.

This was a very easy book to read. The language flows and pulls the reader into what appears to be a nice little story. Except that of course it isn’t. As soon as you stop reading for a minute and start thinking about what is actually happening on the pages you have been turning so quickly you realise that this is a shocking and rather sad story about a sixteen year old, desperate for love and finding it in completely the wrong place. And although Martha, as the narrator doesn’t make any statements about the rights or wrongs of this affair – apart from saying that it would have been better if it hadn’t happened – it is hard for the reader not to feel sorry for the girl who had to experience her first big love with a man this unworthy of her.

Overall I would call this a fascinating story which was (almost too) easy to read. The sort of book that won’t make it’s real impact feel until you’ve read the last page and think about the story for a while. It is only after Martha has finished telling her story that it becomes clear how heartbreaking that story actually is.