Wednesday, 23 March 2011

THURSDAY EVENING BOOK CLUB - Review of Hand Me Down World by Lloyd Jones

They say that there are always two sides to a story. Hand Me Down World proves there can be even more as it tells the same story from several sides, with vastly different voices from characters entwined in each others’ lives. While initially this is a confusing tactic, the story and its characters are drawn with such depth and sensitivity  that the author succeeds (in my humble view) in creating a very intriguing and unique novel.

Jones shines a bright light on the inequity of our contemporary world and in particular, on the plight of very poor women whose only currency is themselves. But he does so with empathy and without sounding like he’s on a soap box. These issues are not new – they have no doubt been happening since people appeared on Earth. But the disparity between the haves and the have-nots today is all the more shocking because of the size of the gap he shows us and the absolute desperation of those with nothing who face bleak futures and take such monumental risks in an effort to improve their lots. He puts a real person behind the news footage and media coverage we see with increasing frequency – such a personal account serves to redress the blasé attitude us haves have about the have-nots.

The absolute determination and strength in the woman we know as Ines is inspiring and illustrates the extent to which a mother will go for her child. On the flipside, Jermayne’s lack of compassion and cruel manipulation is distressing and highlights what some men do in positions of power over people who have nothing. The most beautiful contrast to Jermayne’s cruelty is portrayed however, by the generosity of Bernard and some of the earlier, smaller characters featured. In fact, I found myself feeling a little cross with Ines for what I perceived as hypocrisy – feeling that she was manipulating those around her for her own gains. An intentional ploy by the author perhaps? To illustrate to readers the complexity of people’s motivations and the choices individuals make as they journey through the ups and downs of life ... who could question or judge Ines’ attempt to seek her stolen child and her desire to have a meaningful relationship with him? What would anyone do faced with such a situation?

Such difficult social issues can be tricky to weave a tale around – they can appear shallow and trite, and sometimes may feel patronising but the journey Jones takes us on with Ines and the others is not at all like that. It does not pretend there is an easy answer, it does not even suggest there is an answer – which is probably the most truthful you can be about it.

Written by Madi

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