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"Be what they think you are"
on 1 July 2005
Any novel that starts with a man in his fifties in the body of a child and with this character mentioning that he will tell us a tragic story involving love and murder, will grab the readers attention. And this is what Greer does in the first couple of pages of this book. But after that he shows his ability to keep us engaged throughout the story, with a combination of an imaginative plot and a superb talent for transmitting the feelings of the main character without missing a beat in the story's pace.
There is no great availability of literary fiction in a fantastic setting, so this novel is a clear break from the ordinary. It all revolves around the narrator, Max Tivoli, who was born with the appearance of a seventy-year old man and is "doomed" to have his body rejuvenate while his mind grows old. The sum of the two ages will always add up to seventy, so he knows that by the year 1941 he will disappear. This special situation forces Max to hide his true self from the rest of the people and he tries to stick by his mother's advice: "Be what they think you are". Only a few times in his life he actually ventures to reveal his reality; probably the most important one is when he is a kid in an old man's body and meets Hughie, a child that will become his best friend for life and will share his experiences, regrets and pain, in the years to come.
And then there is Alice, a girl / woman that will cross Max's path three times in his life at different points and who is the love of his life. It is impressive to see how each of this encounters differ from one another, since even though both characters have the same age, Max's physical appearance suggests otherwise. This dichotomy in Max's life creates complex situations that help us realize what this man has to go through. An example of this is when Max meets Alice and both of them are seventeen, but it is Alice's mother who sees Max as a worthy candidate for herself, instead of for her daughter.
George Bernard Shaw once said "Youth is wasted on the young", and the author explores what would happen if that was not the case, but only for one of us. The result of exploring this topic is a novel written in excellent style and which several times in its course leaves us thinking, with our mouth open after being surprised by implications we had not considered. The setting is mostly San Francisco in the turn of the century, and the author provides the city with a life of its own, giving the story a very special flavor. I highly recommend this work to all those that like literature that makes you think and / or fantastic settings.