Tuesday, 30 September 2014

Mr Nobody by Natalie Gordon

Apologies for the horrendous photo - my decent camera is out of action so I'm stuck with my phone and rubbish lighting!

When I read children's books for myself (aside from reading to my children, obviously) they are often classics and they are often rereads. However, although my own children are young I do find myself thinking about books to read them and recommend to them as they grow older, and I'm really glad to be able to add Mr Nobody to this list.

From the blurb:
When nine-year-old Katie's gran comes to live with the family, Katie is forced to share a room with her moody big sister, Lou. They soon discover that Gran has an imaginary, mischievous friend, Mr. Nobody. Before long, stockings are found cooking in the oven and Gran is found wandering the streets in her nightie, singing along to Elvis. 
As Gran's actions become even more peculiar, Katie begins to wonder if Mr. Nobody might actually be real. And why do her new friends, Margaret and Hugo, always appear just when she needs help? 

As a young child I have very faint memories of visiting my great grandmother in a care home. I hated it because she was always confused and had no idea who we were or why we were there, and it always smelled weird. She suffered with dementia and although she never lived with us, I related to so much of Katie's experience with her Gran in this novel.

At times, Mr. Nobody was uncomfortable to read, purely because it deals so well with its' subject. The story is told in alternating chapters from the point of view of Katie and her Gran Vera, and as Vera's condition escalates the story gets increasingly intense. Natalie Gordon writes really really well about the way children feel and respond. Throughout so much of the story I found myself remembering feeling very similarly as a child to the way Katie does a lot of the time.

A lot goes on in the story and although ostensibly the novel focuses on Katie and Vera, it also does a fantastic job of showing the strain that a disease like Alzheimer's can put on relationships, and how incredibly difficult it is for the people who love the sufferer to deal with. I actually found myself getting really angry with Vera at points, although obviously a) she's a fictional character and b) she can't help it, but for me the best fiction full stop, but especially children's fiction, is the books which make you care and respond. From the beginning I was so, so sad for Katie, who felt like she was being pushed out of her own home and whose stupid 'friends' started picking on her the minute her Gran showed up, without the slightest attempt at understanding, and although really I have very little experience of the disease I felt that Vera's struggle with it was really heart-wrenching and incredibly well written. Mr. Nobody is the 'person' she blames when she doesn't remember having done something, he encourages her in her paranoia and provokes her increasing hysteria and as a literary device he is incredibly effective.

I've not come across many novels which deal with Alzheimers as a subject, and I think that to do it this well and especially for children is an absolutely fantastic accomplishment. Mr. Nobody would be a great book to read with a child if you wanted a way into discussing the disease, but also aside from that, just read it because it's really worth your time.  

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