Precocious, Joanna Barnard
Precocious, Joanna Barnard
Review from Jeannie Zelos book reviews
Genre: Literature/Fiction, Adult.
Well, for a debut book Joanna has hit the ground running. This isn’t an easy read, but one that makes us question what is right, what is wrong, and how far we trust our own memories. It reminds me of another novel I reviewed maybe 12-18 months ago, where the teacher was a married female aged about 27 and had a penchant for young boys of 13-14….Its very insidious the way the children – and lets face it, that’s what they are, at 14 we all thought we were adult but looking back with a perspective from years on we can see just how young and impressionable we were – are carefully selected, carefully singled out with praise and little shared glances and secrets til they think they are the one controlling everything. Fiona is now in her late twenties and married. Its a kind of humdrum existence, the gloss of being a newly wed has worn off and when she meets HM again she’s transported back to that time when she thought she was so happy. She bumps in to him accidently and soon he’s using the old tricks, manipulating her but letting her think everything is her idea, until she finds herself in a full fledged affair without really knowing how she got there. The story goes back and forth, from past to present, with her memories being supplemented by the present experience. HM as she called him back then encourages her to go for a meal with him, to be “friends” but slowly Fiona wants more…and once again is it really her who’s in control? She’s older but he has her acting and feeling like that teen girl again. I feel for her as the adult she is, to me the harm he did to her as a child has had the effect on her in adulthood of always comparing relationships to the one she had with him, and of course though she still sees it as a real, solid romance, a kind of Romeo and Juliet experience, in reality she was just a little girl groomed for something she simply wasn’t ready for. She was cheated out of the usual teenage experiences, had a difficult home life, and ever since she just seems to have drifted, lost, not knowing what to do. She was such a clever student, so bright and happy, and full of her writing ambitions and somehow its all fallen to nothing while she drifts through life. I felt sorry for Dave, her husband. He knew nothing of the teen affair, she’s never told anyone, and he’s so in love with her, so loyal and he’s lost without her. Its a disquieting read, it made me uncomfortable to see from an adults view how that cocky awkward teen was slowly moulded into what he wanted, how she thinks, with teenage conceit, that she’s the one in control, that somehow they are going to go through life in love and together, til something happens and she has to realise it’s over. I don’t think she’s yet accepted it though, even though she’s an adult now, and of course she’s been measuring all her relationships since against one that she thought was perfect, but that simply wasn’t real. I loved the looking back, reading it from her teen perspective then her seeing it from where she is now. The cleverness of his words, how he turns and diverts conversations to where he wants, to reveal only what benefits him. He’s a clever manipulative man, and sadly there are too many adults, not just teachers, like this. He’s in an ideal position though to give in to his practices, and upset so many lives. Its an incredibly realistic book, one I enjoyed reading even though parts made me upset at him for doing this, angry at the adults for not noticing, sad for the poor kids who’s lives were affected. Its never just one is it, once the kids leave school another is selected and the sad practice gets perpetuated. Its a book I’m glad I read but that I won’t read again, it made me think about how kids can be protected, how they can have the childhood they deserve, and yet I can’t realistically see any way of stopping a totally determined person, they are clever at hiding their tracks, clever at playing things off as teen moods.
Stars: Five, fabulous, gripping if at times uncomfortable, read.
ARC supplied by Netgalley and publishers