Some books drill deep into the wiring of the brain. They alter thoughts and create memories, becoming part of who you are. Others books float above, never quite breaking the surface.
Whether a book connects or not is what makes reading so magical – it’s both a profoundly public business (anyone can look at the words – in a bookshop, in a library or at the click of a button) and about as private as it gets (my thoughts are mine, and mine alone). When we read, we all look at the same letters on the page but our reactions to them are very much our own.
With this in mind, I can easily see why this book would be loved by some and how, seen from a different pair of eyes, would be a moving, emotional experience but, for me, I’m afraid to say The Boy who Sailed the Ocean in an Armchair by Lara Williamson floated rather drilled deep.
The story deals with the big stuff – death of a parent, domestic violence, that awkward time in life when a child realises that the adults around them have messy, imperfect souls.
It follows Becket Rumsey who, after the death of his mother and the mysterious ending of his Dad’s new relationship, finds himself uprooted in the middle of the night, living in a new house and going to a new school. Accompanied by his little brother and Brian, his pet snail, they try to discover why they have moved and, in doing so, confront the loss of their Mum and find out whether life will ever be the same again.
It’s hard to say why the book didn’t work for me. The plot, at times, felt too drawn-out (the long section in the book where they try to find Pearl, Dad’s previous girlfriend and their ‘almost Mum’ could easily be truncated and the chase more quickly cut to). I found myself skimming through the more ponderous parts.
There was also a clash – in my head, at least – between the jokey, flippancy of some of the language (the phrase ‘sweet baby cheeses’ is used, repeatedly) and the Eastenders-goes-heavy plot-line which piles human misery on top of human misery. It jarred, rather than flowed.
That said, in a different time in a different moment, this book might have been a brain-changer. The climax of the story, if the characters had connected, would have been dramatic, emotional, traumatic even. The fault, on this occasion, may well be with the reader, not the writer; there is enough here to make me want to read Lara Williamson’s next book, but not enough to make me love this one.