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Synopsis: Poor Todd is the youngest boy in Prentisstown, a primitive, isolated village surrounded by swamps infested with dangerous animals and (maybe) genocidal aliens, and that's not even close to the worst bit. You see, just after he was born, a biological attack by the aforementioned aliens apparently left all the women dead, and all the men and animals uncontrollably broadcasting their thoughts to anyone nearby. Oh, and in a month's time he's due for the village's secret rite of passage into manhood, and whatever it entails, it certainly left his former childhood companions oddly changed and distant. Frankly, Todd is fucked. The only thing in his favour is the fact that this is a Young Adult book, so while the Noise produced by a men-only village of telepaths is pretty disturbing, I can't help but feel that an adult version would be so much worse.

Review: We're very much inside Todd's head throughout the book, and he's a distinctive narrative voice. The writing is colloquial and idiosyncratically spelt, reflecting his lack of schooling (the sinister mayor of Prentisstown disapproves of education). Initially Todd knows next to nothing of the outside world, and precious little even of the village and its inhabitants, and though this may be a convenient story-telling device, it's also a plausible character note. After all, given his environment, he's well-practised at avoiding ugly truths and hiding his thoughts, even from himself. This was one of the few books that a substantial number of people read on our holiday, and while some found this writing style grating, the majority (including me) seemed to enjoy it. The setting is unconventional and pleasingly fluid, weaving together elements of SF, fantasy and horror; there's even a Western feel to the low-tech land of villages separated by wilderness.
The central concept of a telepathic world is handled powerfully and convincingly: calm, disciplined people can communicate in sentences, but crowds produce a baffling cacophony and when emotions run high, thoughts fragment into uncontrolled phrases and images. The different people and villages that we encounter display a credible range of coping mechanisms, at both personal and societal levels. And of course there are the telepathic animals: Todd's faithful dog Manchee blurts urgent verbs and nouns, birds squawk "Where's my food? Where's my house?", crocodiles float muttering "Bone... Flesh...", and the sheep just repeat "Sheep"... It's a likable, vivid, action-packed book, and though it's practically one long chase scene it doesn't get repetitive or wearying and allows its characters time to reflect, learn and grow (whether they want to or not). Some of the best Young Adult fiction I've read, and despite that brand I had (and have) no compunction in recommending it to all but the most curmudgeonly.

Suggested pull quotes for the next edition:

Sure to be a hit with the ever-growing 'knifecriming teenager' demographic!
It will leave you shouting "Poo, Todd! Poo!"

Warning: That second quote is absolutely true. Well, that's the effect that it had on our group, anyway.

Illustrative excerpt from Amazon reviews:
* * * * *
The book made sense and the plot progression was fabulous as our young male hero left Prentisstown. The dog also became less annoying...


( 7 comments — Leave a comment )
Nov. 7th, 2008 10:01 am (UTC)
'The handmaid's tale' for YA males, then?
Nov. 7th, 2008 11:58 am (UTC)
I don't think I'd go that far. I think the explicitly fantastic setting lessens its allegorical impact, and any attempt to read the Noise as a metaphor seems fraught with peril (particularly given some plot developments which I omitted to avoid spoilers. If you're curious, some Amazon reviewers have been less fastidious.)

I'll stick with my assessment of 'An exciting book with some interesting concepts'. I can't imagine it shaking anyone's world view, à la 'The Handmaid's Tale'.
Nov. 7th, 2008 10:29 am (UTC)
squirrel, todd!
Man, I made it through a page and a half of that before sending it skimming across the room.
Nov. 7th, 2008 11:37 am (UTC)
Re: squirrel, todd!
My apologies for implicitly branding you 'most curmudgeonly', though, as I mentioned, you're not alone in finding it irritating. You can take consolation in the fact that it's pretty much like that all the way through, so it's probably just as well that you didn't persevere...
Nov. 7th, 2008 01:12 pm (UTC)
Re: squirrel, todd!
I found it a bit meh for the first chapter or so but then absolutely loved it.

Poo Alex, Poo!

Nov. 22nd, 2008 01:32 am (UTC)
Not repetitive?






-- tom
Nov. 24th, 2008 12:10 am (UTC)
That's not repetition, that's drama, son.
( 7 comments — Leave a comment )


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