Monthly Archives: June 2012

Book 20 – The Trouser People

“The Trouser People” by Andrew Marshall (2002)

From 1999 to 2001 I was consumed by thoughts and ideas about Burma. As I planned, then researched and attempted to write my honours thesis, a political biography of Aung San Suu Kyi, then the leader of an outlawed political party, the National League for Democracy, and languishing under house arrest for the tenth year, I devoured every journal article, book, online resource and newspaper article I could find on the subject. This book, published just a few short months after I vowed never to think about Burma again, fell into my hands late last year and drew my attention on the bookshelf just a few weeks ago, after the historic and momentous occasion of Aung San Suu Kyi finally legitimately stepping into her role as the formally recognised and accepted leader of the opposition in Burma. Still a long way from her goal of bringing democracy to Burma, Aung San Suu Kyi has, at last and at least, made inroads into the journey she set out on so very long ago. It was a great pleasure to see her finally receive her Nobel prize in person very recently, and just this week to see her addressing parliament in London, the first opposition leader from any country to ever do so. Burma has never had anything to offer the west, and so it has languished, uncared for and unassisted, as a country of complex political intricacy, ruled by a military junta bent on corruption and dictatorship. Perhaps, over a decade since the country first caught my attention, there is more hope there than ever before.

So, to “The Trouser People”, a book that tells of two journeys – the author’s and his subject’s. In the late 1880s, British officer and explorer, George Scott, travelled through Burma on a mission for the British, to conquer tribal villages in parts of the Burmese mountains never before visited by foreigners and claim them as a part of the Empire. Scott’s political and military exploits were bombastic and represented the epitome of arrogance shown by the British government in their quest for domination. On a side note, he introduced soccer to Burma, a sport that is a national obsession to this day.

In 1999, when I was sitting in an office at the Campbelltown campus of UWS, planning and researching my thesis, Andrew Marshall was in Burma, masquerading as a tourist and re-tracing Scott’s footsteps. Oh but that I had been as lucky and/or brave as him.

The book is a frustrating read. Marshall’s experiences in Burma were enthralling and while ever the book was focused on this I couldn’t put it down. However, three-quarters of every chapter was devoted to explaining Scott’s journey, and this I found quite dull and dry. I suppose the way you react to a book depends on why it invites you in in the first place. Your choice to read it and your reaction when you do is based on your own experiences or interests. I spend so much time in my job talking about the importance of a personal response and how context influences our understanding of a text. My journey through the roller coaster of honours and then the end of my first marriage has certainly influenced my response to this book. I don’t recommend it.

Time for something fun…

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Book 19 – The Knife of Never Letting Go

“The Knife of Never Letting Go” by Patrick Ness (2008)

This is a book I had been meaning to read for a long time. Then I finally got around to buying it, only to leave it sitting on my shelf for so long that I forgot I had it and bought it again! It has had overwhelmingly positive reviews and is spruiked by Walker Books at every education conference I go to. It’s won prizes too. More than one.

So, at last I have read it. And, like my last book, it has taken me a ridiculously long time to read. It was engaging and absorbing and quite different to anything else I had read. But there is no way on Earth I would ever teach it. Not ever. Not to any student. In fact, I can’t imagine even mentioning to an older student that they might read it. There is just too much to get your head around in the simple act of reading the book. It doesn’t leave room for analysis or deconstruction.

Like so many of my chosen YA books, this is a dystopian fiction, this time on a fictitious planet called New World. Our protagonist is Todd Hewitt – the last boy in Prentisstown since all the women are gone and there are no younger children. He is a month away from the birthday that will signify his promotion to manhood when the world he knows and understands is completely turned on its head. He knows that everything has irretrievably changed because he can hear everything everyone thinks. This is The Noise, and it is a condition the settlers discovered to their dismay when they first arrived on the planet. Every man can hear every other man’s thoughts. And every woman could hear all the men’s thoughts too. No one could hear the women’s thoughts, though. What happened to all the women is a matter of conjecture, but when Todd finds a girl in the swamp, everything becomes a mess in his Noise and he starts the adventure that drives the rest of the book.

Without a doubt, this book has one of the best openings of any book I have ever read

The first thing you find out when yer dog learns to talk is that dogs don’t got nothing much to say. About anything.

It is also a fascinating book for its structure and the choices the author has made in terms of spelling. The Noise is represented like quill and ink scrawling on the page, while the narrative is a standard font. Remembering that Ness’s premise is that this is a planet settled by people looking for a new life, and that, borrowing from the experiences of the American pioneers or the Australian colonial settlers, they had less than nothing to assist them in establishing their new lives, Todd ‘thinks’ the story the way he thinks words should be spelt, because no one has had time to teach him anything different. They were too busy simply surviving. So education becomes edukashun. Though becomes tho. Because becomes cuz. I’ve got to say, that sure would make my job in the classroom a whole lot easier. “Go ahead, kids, spell it the way it sounds. Seems logical to me.”

This is book one in the Chaos Walking series. When I bought the book, others were a mere kernel of an idea. Now that I’ve finally got around to reading it, there are two more, “The Ask and the Answer” and the finale, “Monsters of Men”. I will probably read them both eventually. But I’m not in a hurry. I feel spent. Exhausted.

Should you read it? Yes, I think you should. But it is the equivalent of an MA movie. Lots of violence and a relentless pace. Nevertheless, I’m glad I read it.

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Filed under YA fiction