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12 of 13 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Fantastic writing on a odd adolescent.....what next? ***1/2 stars
'The spring I learned to drive, the cherry tree in front of our house in Bourne End flowered as never before'. It was 1968'.

From these opening lines I was expecting a David Mitchell ( in Black Swan Green mode) exploration of adolescence. Instead there is a slow moving, incredibly detailed account of firstly bed rest for rheumatic fever - absolutely the...
Published on 2 Nov 2008 by purpleheart

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1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Have I missed something?
I purchased this book based on the great reviews it had received, however I feel I've been misled. Whilst I appreciate it is well written and mildly humorous in places, I found it laborious and not a book I looked forward to picking up again once I had put it down.
Published on 16 Jun 2012 by S. M. Collins


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12 of 13 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Fantastic writing on a odd adolescent.....what next? ***1/2 stars, 2 Nov 2008
By 
purpleheart (UK) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Pilcrow (Hardcover)
'The spring I learned to drive, the cherry tree in front of our house in Bourne End flowered as never before'. It was 1968'.

From these opening lines I was expecting a David Mitchell ( in Black Swan Green mode) exploration of adolescence. Instead there is a slow moving, incredibly detailed account of firstly bed rest for rheumatic fever - absolutely the wrong treatment for the Still's disease that it turns out that John Cromer really has - and then life in the special hospital for children with Still's.

It's a strange rites of passage novel as John Cromer is a strange boy. The detail of the descriptions can be excruciating - his pain at the hands of the nurses rather than his mother's care, his first sexual encounters and the logistical and physical difficulty of them considering his handicaps and those of his partners.

The detail and the length give us some insight into a life which is so severely curtailed physically if not in thought and spirit...but I'm still left wondering what Adam Mars-Jones was telling us.

The writing is good and funny - but the book just ends - I've since read that this is the first book in a trilogy - in which case I don't think it works fully as a stand alone volume.
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8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Pilcrow, 17 Nov 2008
This review is from: Pilcrow (Hardcover)
This is a truly remarkable novel, a masterpiece. It is a Proustian evocation of a fifties childhood, recaptured in extraordinary detail, and with great wit and good humour. Mars Jones is well known as a critic and for his shorter fiction, and here for the first time he writes at leisurely length. A second volume is promised, and is eagerly awaited by his admirers.
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12 of 14 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Weakest Hero, But The Strongest, 12 Feb 2009
By 
Simon Savidge Reads "Simon" (Manchester, UK) - See all my reviews
(TOP 1000 REVIEWER)   
This review is from: Pilcrow (Paperback)
I had to give myself a little break from Pilcrow before I could review it so that I could take it all in and let it digest. Adam Mars-Jones has been heralded for some time as one of the best writers by Granta and other such places... before he had even written his first novel, so Pilcrow had a lot to live up to before it was even published and released, it manages to live up to and beyond expectations. The book deals with so much its difficult to sum it up in a review of any length but I shall do my best for you all.

John Cromer is the unusual and fantastic narrator starting around the age of five when doctors diagnose him with juvenile rheumatoid arthritis leading to him having several years of bed rest. From there we are given the often hilarious thoughts and theories that John has as a young boy growing up in the 1950's. From what he thinks happens in the outside world which he hasn't seen much of to his mother's obsession with breeding budgies and cockatiels. It also gives us the underlying insight into marriages and society in that period from things that Johns mother (who is a brilliant gossip) says that we the reader can understand and piece together even if the narrator is too young and doesn't himself. It also looks at a child's idea of what life is like to be stuck in that environment in that time and how he feels at the prospect of it being forever.

However it isn't forever as during a visit to the dentists his mother reads a piece on the misdiagnosis of rheumatoid arthritis and Still's disease of which John is discovered to have the latter and the one thing you should have if you have Stills disease is bed rest leaving him with lasting disabilities. This part of the book is quite heart breaking as the family cope with the fact what they have been doing is wrong and that now more damage to John has been done to him physically when he and his family believed he was being made better. This then becomes some of the most interesting part of the book as he learns to deal with unsympathetic nurses, other children (two girls of which are hilarious evil tyrants), the workings of his `taily', a murderess on the loose, and the fact that he likes boys. All these subjects are discussed through a child's eyes which I don't always like in novels, however here it works as the reader you can draw more adult connotations and hints from everything John sees and tells you. I just loved the black and white view of a child's and particularly in the circumstances and era that this novel is set, and also in terms of discussing growing up, sexuality and disability.

Adam Mars-Jones has done something quite magnificent with this novel. Every character has depth even if they only appear very briefly, be they a concerned doctor, interfering Grandmother, abusive nurse or 6 year old tyrant and child eater they are dealt with in a real way. He also writes with humour this could easily have been a very heavy and hard going novel. Through Johns observations, bluntness and the scenarios he gets himself into there is tragedy but also some incredibly funny scenes.

The hardest aspect of the book, which isn't actually that difficult, is the fact it isn't totally linear and can sometimes jump a long way forward or not too far back, you never loose where you are though and by the end I was slowing down not wanting the final page to be turned. The good news is that this is the first in a trilogy, so I will be getting to hear more about John and his life in the future. That is where the book and its author have triumphed I think John is one of the best characters I have read in a very long time and like the blurb says `He's the weakest hero in fiction - unless he is one of the strongest'. This is a must read book and I hope will get a nod in some of the awards as they come. I think everyone should give this a go as it's remarkable and extremely individual.
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Hugely enjoyable, 15 May 2009
By 
Peter Lee (Manchester ,United Kingdom) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Pilcrow (Hardcover)
This book really surprised me. It's a bit of a brick of a thing, a huge novel with small print, but it is incredibly easy to read and I flew through it.

The novel tells the story of a boy called John Cromer, who succumbs to illness at an early age and is prescribed bed rest by his doctor, ordered to remain as still as possible as any physical effort whatsoever could prove fatal. However, it later transpires that John is actually suffering from a different condition - Still's Disease - where a lack of movement causes ankylosis, where the joints sieze up and calcify. As a result, John is crippled, with only a little movement in one arm and his head, and consigned to a wheelchair for the rest of his life.

This all sounds unremittingly grim, not to mention dull (a motionless leading character, after all) but instead of focusing on his own predicament the narrator simply tells the story of his life, his friends, and his family. As the story progresses John goes to school - or a hospital school at least - and eventually enters adolescence where he starts to experience his first sexual feelings and homosexual encounters. The only negative point of the book is that it ends abruptly, but I understand that Adam Mars-Jones intends to write a trilogy, of which "Pilcrow" is the first part.

This is a superb book, written in a light and engaging style. The attention to detail throughout is remarkable, and surprisingly for a book as large as this I never once found myself wishing it would end. Simply put, it is one of the best books I've read in a long time.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Complete absorption in the character, time and place, 4 May 2014
By 
A. Hunt "book review watcher" (Glasgow, Scotland) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Pilcrow (Kindle Edition)
This novel is difficult to describe. I should just say: read it and see! I could say it's "about" a disabled boy and his path to becoming a young man – a sort of coming of age tale. But that would be misleading. I could say it's "about" someone coming out, or rather, realising that he's gay. Again, that doesn't begin to describe the book.

To try a bit harder in describing it: this is a series of minute, perfectly vivid, reflective snapshots of time and place that capture what life was like in the late 50s and through the 60s, building up gradually into a coherent whole. It's a long book, but not a slow one. Although if I had to characterise it simply, one way of doing so would be to say that it is to most contemporary novels as slow food is to a Mickey D's.

This is funny yet restrained, poignant, idiosyncratic, and well worth a read. Remarkably, it escapes being pessimistic despite its protagonist's circumstances.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A long book to relish, 22 July 2011
By 
Eleanor (Oxford, England) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Pilcrow (Paperback)
John Cromer, Pilcrow's narrator, is a boy growing up disabled in fifties England. The book covers his childhood and adolescence, spent first at home confined to his bed and then at various institutions.

I loved this book from the very first of its astute and beautifully written pages. Curious, funny, and very mischievous, John is an engaging narrator and the characters who surround him are well-drawn and (seen through John's eyes) a vivid bunch. I particularly enjoyed John's mother who although flawed is a loving complex woman. The following passage highlights her character (and had me laughing out loud):

"Mum had once seen Ken Dodd jump the queue for the fortune seller at a CRX fête. She sometimes laughed at his jokes even after that, but lost all respect for him as a person."

This novel is the first of a trilogy and I felt it did end rather suddenly. So I think to be truly satisfied readers have to be in for the long haul. I for one am eager to read "Cedilla", the sequel, looking forward to what John does next with his life.
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11 of 14 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Overlooked masterpiece, 2 April 2009
By 
Phil (Bristol, UK) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Pilcrow (Paperback)
I started reading this tremendously inventive book just after giving up on this year's Man Booker prizewinner "The White Tiger", which, after a brilliant start, descended into tedious dialogue and uninspiring writing. Why THIS novel by Adam Mars-Jones wasn't even long-listed, I can't imagine. (Well, yes I can. What really IS hard to imagine is that the panel of agenda-burdened judges might for once favour something that I find readable.) In a literary sense, this is one of the best books I've ever read: a word-lover's paradise, full of brilliant turns of phrase and playful games with language, and so elegantly written that reading it was pure joy.

John Cromer is a boy with severe constraints on his mobility, who spends almost the entirety of this, the first part of a planned trilogy, either in bed or in a wheelchair. But these limitations open up to him the infinite possibilities of thought, and fertilise his imagination. John's small world is thus made a lot more interesting than many wider ones, and his delightful narration is full of insights into human behaviour, and thought-provoking accounts of obstacles most of us never have to deal with. There's plenty to make you angry or sad on John's behalf - especially the way that some of his carers treat him - but it's also extremely funny. And John is (usually) so cheerful, and determined to have a life, that you admire him as much as you ache for him.

Mars-Jones really gets inside the mind of his child narrator; it's so convincing, it reads like a genuine autobiography. It won't be to everyone's taste: it's a slow, wordy novel of detailed reminiscence, rather than a story with a plot, and readers who would froth at the mouth over frequent and detailed reference to a disabled schoolboy's homosexual yearnings should avoid it. But if you find it strikes a chord with you, you'll be glad you read it.
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Outstanding novel from leading gay writer, 14 Jan 2010
By 
brixtonite "brixtonite" (Brixton, London,England) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Pilcrow (Paperback)
I agree with all the other five star reviews. Fascinating, witty, moving and superbly well written. Really gets you inside the head of a disabled child I felt. Highly reccomended
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5.0 out of 5 stars Bren Woodford, 21 April 2014
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This review is from: Pilcrow (Kindle Edition)
This book is based on an unusual topic. It is well deserved of five stars. It is poignant, and amusing. I searched the book out because of a review I had read years ago when the book was first published. I was one of the cadet nurses that worked at The Canadian Red Cross Hospital where Mars Jones describes Johns experiences time as a patient on the children's rheumatic ward. Oh, I remember the long corridor and the Nissan hut wards. I also had to smile at the incident in the hydrotherapy pool - I used to push the children up the corridor for their treatment- it never occurred to me they played tricks. It's a pity they didn't share them. I was completely drawn into the life of this child. His suffering and his
imagination that allowed him to escape his prison of physical deformity. Love read. Thank you Mr. Mars- Jones
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5 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Compelling, 26 Oct 2009
This review is from: Pilcrow (Paperback)
A totally compelling piece of work. It is indeed 'a brick' of a novel, but its watchword is readability. Entirely credible, fascinating, moving, funny, clever, thought-provoking. I, like another reviewer here, am astonished it had (comparatively) so little notice in the literary world.
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Pilcrow
Pilcrow by Adam Mars-Jones (Paperback - 5 Mar 2009)
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