Saturday, 18 January 2014

The Terrible Thing That Happened To Barnaby Brocket, by John Boyne

Born to the least imaginative, dullest, most compulsively normal parents to ever set foot on the continent of Australia, Barnaby Brocket has a problem. More accurately, he is the problem. For his normal-obsessed parents at least. Barnaby Brocket is decidedly abnormal because he is incapable of following the laws of gravity. He floats.

Barnaby's parents are appalled by their son's disgraceful lack of obedience. Convinced that he will horrify all who see him, shame their respectable family name and spoil their normality, his parents fail to notice entirely that people like Barnaby. They don't mind that he floats. After 8 embarrassing, excruciating years of un-normal-ness, Barnaby's parents decide that enough is enough.  Something terrible happens that results in Barnaby being released to the atmosphere, much to the dismay of the family dog of "indeterminate breed and unknown parentage".

Unweighted, Barnaby embarks on some enviable and extraordinary adventures around the globe. Visiting 5 continents, meeting new friends (and one old one) and helping out wherever he can, Barnaby finds others that have been ostracised, shamed or ridiculed for their differences. Barnaby, along with his new friends, proves that normal, actually, is overrated. Why be normal when you can be unique?

A beautiful story, lovingly narrated, about an 8-year-old boy who is remarkable not only in his floatyness, but in his bravery, his loyalty and his absolute compulsion to put others first. Humorous, always able to do the right thing and thoroughly good-hearted, despite the prejudiced and unfair upbringing that he had been subjected to. The book has a brilliant message about being yourself, following one's own path in life and not caring about the expectations, opinions or pressures of others. Being yourself is the best and the easiest way to be happy, not fulfilling the expectations of others. Boyne makes an excellent case for rejecting prejudice, for accepting and celebrating otherness and embracing the unknown.

Barnaby himself is imaginative, well read, full of warmth and love and good deeds. A brilliant character that is excused of his slightly surreal affliction by his complete acceptance of it. Incidentally, I think that it's because Barnaby, and all of his also-not-normal friends are so nonplussed by Barnaby's floating that this novel feels strangely and unexpectedly realistic.

This book made me want to be a bit more like Barnaby. To always help out where I can, to be upfront and to look for the best in everybody, no matter what others see in you.

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