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Pick another book
on 29 November 2012
Set in a small Australian town, "Me and Mr Booker" is about an affair between 16 year old schoolgirl Martha, the book's narrator, and a 32 year old married university teacher from Britain called Mr Booker. Cory Taylor captures the voice of a 16 year old and the frustration she feels at living in a small town very well. That restless yearning to grow up, move out, and see the world is something a lot of people can relate to and Martha is a convincingly real person.
The novel explores the angle that young people, particularly teenagers, feel that they know everything and see things more clearly than their elders. Through Martha's narration, we see a more complex relationship between Mr and Mrs Booker than the simplistic "he's unhappy with his wife" motif that Martha imagines. Martha's naivety is highlighted through her constantly asking Mr Booker when he will leave his wife, when they will start their new life together, and it's painfully clear to the reader that Martha really doesn't understand the nature of their relationship or much at all about Mr and Mrs Booker's.
But the novel is too long. At 220 pages, it's not a long book but despite this brevity the book felt overlong by half. Once Taylor establishes the main characters, they continue in their way straight through until the end with little variation. Martha doesn't seem to change much and neither do the other characters. This stasis isn't helped by a lack of plot, and the novel meanders aimlessly repeating sex scenes, clandestine meetings, and secrets hidden in public appearances. It gets very tired after a while.
There also isn't a single likeable character in the book. Martha is bratty, deluded and a tool. Mr Booker is worse because he's just a loser. He drinks, says horribly boring things which he and Martha think are terribly funny - his character is such a tedious bore. Mrs Booker is a pitiful character rather than likeable, she's used as much as Martha. And then there are Martha's parents: her emotionally damaged mother hopelessly in thrall to her separated husband, the reprehensible sponge and intellectually vacuous Victor, Martha's father, who spends the book pursuing one pointless venture after another, borrowing money from Martha's mother only to waste it away. The book is well written but when you don't like any of the characters, it makes reading it that much harder.
"Me and Mr Booker" looks at the world of adult relationships through the eyes of someone who is still a child with the body of an adult and, while this is an interesting conceit, Taylor doesn't do enough in the novel to justify its length. The story could've been told much more quickly and the reader spared the company of such boring and annoying characters. They are a gallery of hopeless idiots I couldn't begin to like and by the end of the novel I'd lost all interest in their sad lives. If you've not read "Lolita" by Vladimir Nabokov, I would suggest reading that if you're interested in this kind of story but I wouldn't recommend reading "Me and Mr Booker".