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4.4 out of 5 stars29
4.4 out of 5 stars
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Mal Peet is gradually gaining a reputation for quality fiction with a nostalgic edge, that is invariably accessible to a wide range of age groups. After the masterful Keeper and excellent Tamar he seems to have gone from strength to strength and this recent effort is as quietly impressive as just about anything else he has written.
The story has two strands - the first follows a working-class East Anglian family from the end of World War II up until 2001. The main focus of this ordinary family is Clem Ackroyd - the book's narrator and chief protagonist. Clem's love affair with the moneyed Frankie leads him to his darkest hour, while his yobbish father and plain mother strive to put him through Grammar school - Clem himself more keen on his regular rendezvous' with Frankie.
The second strand of the story kicks in about a third of the way through, and follows the 1961 nuclear stand-off between the US and Russia, from the Bay of Pigs incident to the brink of global annihilation. Peet gets under the skin of both Nikita Khrushchev and JFK, and we see the dire situation growing steadily worse as bloodthirsty US Generals and cold Russian Ministers urge their respective leaders to fire first.
The book quickly absorbed me - I felt I learned some history but not at the expense of an entertaining love story cum drama. Another highly recommended (by me at least!) novel from a fine writer.
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on 13 August 2011
I now know a lot more about the Cuban missile crisis than I did a few days ago! Clem Ackroyd is growing up and discovering sex in rural Norfolk while the Russians and Americans are each threatening to turn the planet into a cinder. Contrary to popular belief, not everyone in the UK in the 1960s was having lots of sex and drugs and rock n roll, and Clem, a grammar school boy from one of the new council estates that had appeared in post Second World War Norfolk, is still at the exploring stage with his girlfriend, Frankie.

Having read the battered copy of Lady Chatterley's Lover that was passed round his form, he has ironically become a sort of Mellors character by taking up with the local landowner's daughter. They decide they must have sex properly if everyone is about to be blown up, but finding somewhere private is not as easy as you might think, so they head for the beach - with disastrous consequences.

There are some wonderful characters in this book. Clem and Frankie are so real. They have their whole life ahead of them, but their future, and the future of the entire planet, is being threatened by the sabre-rattling of the super powers. Clem's granny and her Brethren have been waiting for the end of the world for sometime and are actually looking forward to being whisked off to Kingdom Come. The bombs can't fall fast enough for them! George and Ruth, Clem's parents, met and married during the second world war having only known each other a ahort time so when the war ends and they are reunited, they realise they have a less-than-wonderful relationship. However they stick together and make a decent enough life for their only son.

I really enjoyed this book. Mal Peet is a gifted writer who has won the Carnegie Medal in the past, and although this is definitely a book for older teens, I am sure it will be listed in the nominations for this year's prize.
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on 26 February 2012
This is not my normal type of read; I picked it up out of curiosity, having heard a lot of good things about it. I was surprised by how much I enjoyed it.
I've unreservedly given it five stars for the brilliant writing. I have a few reservations about whether it really is a YA novel, just as I had with Tamar. I can imagine my 18 year-old son enjoying it (I hope to be able to persuade him to do so), but not my 14 year-old. I found the teen characters here much more fully drawn and three dimensional than in Tamar; their story realistic and engaging. But primarily I personally think the book would have adult appeal. This small reservation aside, I have only praise for the writing and the story. Having lived in Norwich for three years, a long time ago, I thoroughly enjoyed the portrayal of rural Norfolk and its people. The characters came alive, the general historical comment was by turns disturbing and entertaining and reminded me of all my own fears of growing up in the shadow of the bomb.
What I loved best of all was the witty, intelligent irreverence of the tale. It reminded me of Salman Rushdie's writing - wickedly, cleverly funny. I kept exploding with laughter while reading; a pleasure both rare and delightful. Thank you, Mal Peet for such a fabulous read.
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Life: An Exploded Diagram is a coming of age story set in rural North Norfolk during the Cold War. These two things alone made it a bit of a must read for me. Having never read an Mal Peet I wasn't sure what to expect but I can honestly say I really enjoyed it.

Life is one of those books you can devour in a matter of hours despite its size (at just about 400 pages long it is a bit of a monster). I was totally engrossed and found myself just wanting to read more and more to find out what happened next.

As I said Life is basically a coming of age story following the life of Clem Ackroyd a boy from rural north Norfolk focusing particularly on his teenage years and the relationship he develops with local rich girl Frankie. When I was reading it it reminded me both of Boy by Roald Dahl in its narrative and style but also a bit like an Adrian Mole story in how ordinary Clem actually was. I loved the relationship between them and I was on tenderhooks waiting to see what was going to happen between them.

I loved the Norfolk references being a native myself. I hate it when stories are "set" in a place but it is obvious that the person has never been there. Apart from the fact that a few names are changed (I loved the use of the name Hazeborough - if you are from Norfolk you will get the joke - if not I don't think I can explain it) you can really tell that the author is writing about someehere he has actually been and about experiences he lived through earlier in his life.

I also really enjoyed the historical references. The books is a prime example of the type of historical fiction I love and the type I think appeals to Young Adults themselves. It doesn't attempt to over burden your with detail after detail about the period but rather builds them into the story to give you a real sense of period without the reader really realising it.

I must say the end came as a bit of a suprise and I had to go back over a couple of pages to check I hd got it right. I didn't see it coming at all but it fit really perfectly the story as a whole and I loved how poetic it was against the historical backdrop it was written in.

all in all an excellent book which I really enjoyed. I will be recommending this one regularly.
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Having read and thoroughly enjoyed Tamar, I was eager to read Mal Peet's latest. The writing is just as crisp and sharp, a wonderful depiction of Clem's young life and his first love, and the wonder of discovering sexual attraction against a backdrop of wartime rural Norfolk and vividly drawn schooldays. There's a good measure of humour, and aching moments of sadness. Then the "exploded diagram" brings in the world situation with a look at JFK and other protagonists during the Cuban missile crisis. And that's where things went a little wrong for me. Clever, yes, but I thought there was an absence of "fit" between the stories - other than the obvious urgency of the young couple getting together before they're blown to smithereens. The world story is told very straight, despite the apparent insights into world leaders' lives - I missed Clem and Frankie every time the story veered away, and found myself skipping chunks. I'm out of step with a lot of other reviewers on this book, but my overall feeling was a slight disappointment and disconnection.

Thanks to netgalley for providing an advanced e-copy.
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on 11 June 2011
This book really has got everything: a sympathetic, but interestingly flawed, central character, writing of great panache and subtlety, great jokes, a broad geo-political canvass that takes in village life in Norfolk and momentous events in America, Russia and Cuba. Peet has always been a great prose stylist, but here he excels himself: time and time again I had to stop reading and go back over a page or a paragraph just to enjoy again the perfection of the writing. Any adventurous teen would relish this, as would any literate adult. Peet deserves to be ranked with the finest writers working today, irrespective of genre or age. And this is his best book.
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on 31 July 2011
With its vast geographical and historical sweep, from World War II Norfolk through Cold War Cuba to 21st century New York, and journey through life's key moments, birth, child-hood, adolescence, love, marriage, death, this is not a book to pick-up lightly. But pick it up you should. Life: An Exploded Diagram is an incredibly life affirming and wonderfully observed novel which is at turns hilarious and bitter.

Clem Ackroyd tells us his story in flashback from his New York home, starting with his birth, where a German bomber brings on his premature birth. From these beginnings we see Clem's parents, Ruth and George, forging a life in rural Norfolk, where Clem's cold, zealously religious grandmother is certain they are 'getting above themselves', a life in which Clem finds himself suffocated.

Clem's world is expanded when he gains entrance to the local grammar school and further still when he meets the beautiful Frankie, daughter of the local land-owner whose rebellious nature proves the spark for the teenagers romance. Art plays a big part in the book, providing Clem's future job and proving vital in his seduction of Frankie. Teen love is portrayed with care, humour, and the great wallop of cringe that makes it oh-so believable.

All this plays out to the back-drop of the Cuban Missile Crisis, where with the help of recordings and transcripts, Clem details Kennedy and Krushchev's wranglings on the precipice of world destruction. Will Clem completes his seduction of Frankie before the titled explosion? This simple question in the hands of a writer as skilled as Mal Peet, provides tension galore, and yet somewhere the explosions that do come and their inevitable fall-out are completely unexpected.

A book that I will be recommending for a long time to come. A real treat for readers of any age. Read this book!
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on 28 July 2011
This book is a winner. I didn't know Mal Peet before I read it but I saw a review in the Guardian and thought it sounded worth a look. I guess it's supposed to be a teen book but really it's a wonderful novel about falling in love for the first time against a background of the Cold War and the Cuban Missile Crisis. I learned a lot about 1960s history but mostly I just fell into the hands of a master storyteller. A great book for anyone who likes beautiful, thoughtful writing.
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on 6 July 2011
I have never read Mal Peet before and I thoroughly enjoyed the book until the last chapter. I thought it was a cheap trick to connect the main characters lives to the Twin Towers tragedy. Other authors have tried to do this without success and why the author should do this is beyond me .The only reason it appears was to give it a modern twist! The narrative did not need this and left a feeling of severe disappointment of what was a great read.
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VINE VOICEon 28 October 2011
Clem's story begins as the chimney of his mother Ruth's house shatters into pieces as a Spitfire goes through it in pursuit of a German bomber and she goes into labour. He emerges into a loveless house, his grandmother Win despises her daughter for falling pregnant to a soldier just as she did, and at the age of three has to adjust to the arrival of the large strict stranger who is his father. Growing up in a council house under the great skies of Norfork in a house marked by puritanical sexlessness he endures grammar schoool before falling for the daughter of the manor, the beautiful Frankie as in the wider world the Cuban missile crisis and the specter of Mutually Assured Destruction unfolds. Her father employs his and their furtive assignations culminate in a literally explosive tragedy that brutally sunders the pair. Peet weaves his story with great skill and uses Norfolk dialect to create a real sense of life in a Norfolk village between the wars, and the devastating closing pages of the book are shocking and yet, on reflection, give a sense of completion to a book about a man who's life has been defined by life shaking explosions.
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