Tuesday, July 20, 2010
Noah's Castle by John Rowe Townsend
Synopsis From Back Cover:
The coming winter was going to be a bad one - and not because of the weather.
Sixteen-year-old Barry Mortimer's life turns upside down when his father suddenly moves the family from their comfortable modern home in the city to a decaying old mansion on the outskirts of town. Strange and mysterious events follow.
Why isn't anyone allowed to visit their new home? What is Father doing in the basement and why is he keeping it a secret?
As rumors of skyrocketing prices and food shortages become a full-fledged economic meltdown, Barry's world begins to crumble. Can his family hold together as a nation collapses around them?
Alright if you have any intention of reading this book, at anytime, please don't continue to read the review. There is no way I can fully get my feelings about this book across without "spoiling" the plot line for you. So with that being said, on with the show.
I don't know how else to put this than to say, I hate this book. Hate it. There is nothing, and I mean nothing about it I enjoyed. I actually found myself getting angry while I was reading it. I was angry at the author for writing such nonsense, angry at the characters for being so unlikeable that I hoped that they would all starve to death, and angry at myself for even agreeing to review this book. There were a few times I actually wanted to throw the book across the room or in the garbage (which I have never wanted to do in my life) but I restrained myself and forced myself to finish reading the book. I'm actually getting angry all over again while I'm typing up the review.
Okay, deep breath. Now that I got that out of my system I will attempt to explain why I feel so strongly about a YA book that is only 211 pages long. I was expecting a book about a family doing everything they could to survive during a time where food was scarce, and what food was available was rationed out in small portions or was so expensive nobody could afford it. I was wanting a family that came together to survive the times, a family who loved and trusted each other to put the needs of the family first. I wanted a story that as a father I could relate too. Needless to say that's not what this book is about nor is it even close to what I got out of it.
This book is about a domineering, sexist, jackass of a father who doesn't know how to show love to his family in anyway that most children would recognize. He treats his wife as a upper level servant who isn't intelligent enough to be brought into his confidence. He's not all that warm to his children and has no problem emotionally brushing them aside in order to do what he thinks is right. So when he starts to hoard food and supplies for his family to live off of during the crisis, I agreed with him and knew he was doing the right thing for his family, but I still didn't like him. When laws are passed by the government making it illegal to hoard food, I'm still backing his decision but part of me wanted him to get caught just to get him off the page.
No matter what I thought of the father though I wasn't prepared for how I would feel about the rest of the family. The most likable was the wife/mother, but even there I found her to be weak and boring. She didn't make that much of an impression on me and in the end I didn't care either way. What really got my goat were the children. There are 4 of them and while I didn't like any of them, I'm going to focus on Barry and the oldest sister, Nessie. Nessie thinks everything her father is doing is wrong, she finds is abhorrent that her father thought ahead and hoarded food for his family when other people are doing without. She would rather sparse out her families supplies to everyone else in the country instead of making sure her family was taken care of. She even moves out of the house because she is so disgusted by her father's actions.
Barry, the star of this story, is a little more conflicted. At first, while bothered by his father's actions, he goes along with it because while he thinks its wrong, he's not sure why though. He just feels that his father making sure his family is taken care of when the country is going to hell is somehow wrong. The book is his journey to the conclusion that the only way he can feel right about life is for his family to be in the same circumstances as everyone else. The world can not be right until his family is starving the way everyone else is. He concludes his journey of "self growth" by turning his father in. He tells a "charity" about the hoarded food in the basement, which by the way was the whole reason they moved into the house, and even helps the same "charity" raid and take everything they can.
By the end of the book, the father is in a fugue state feeling sorry for himself because he couldn't take care of his family. The rest of the family are all happy and chipper because now they get to starve as well. What a wonderful end to a ridiculous story.
My problem with this book wasn't the writing, which I found to be engaging despite the horrendous story itself. My problem was the viewpoint of the author that a father who tries to take care of his family is somehow evil and that sacrificing yourself and your family for the greater good is somehow noble. The noble thing to do is take care of your family first, to make sure that the children you brought into this world are provided for. Then if you are able to, take care of your neighbors after that. The idea that hurting yourself permanently to help others temporarily is for me, morally repugnant. As a father the idea of letting my son go hungry for months to come in order to feed someone else for a day is stupid and not something I would ever consider.
Now I'm not sure if the fact that this book was written in 1975 has anything to do with the socioeconomic tone in this book, but I'm sure it does. The entire time I was reading this book, I kept thinking that the entire point of it was to get the author's personal political/economic views across to the masses. I'm not sure if that's the case but It's the way the way it came across to me. What I do know is that I don't like this book, wish I had never read this book, and would strongly encourage everyone I know not to read this book.
This book will qualify for the Typically British Reading Challenge 2010 hosted by Carolyn of Book Chick City.