Monday 17 December 2012

352. My Brother Simple by Marie-Aude Murail

My Brother Simple by Marie-Aude Murail
Published September 2012 Bloomsbury 

From the publisher:
There's unrequited love, lust (lots of it), bad romantic poetry, too many essays, and plenty of crisps. But the seventeen-year-old boy in this story has something extra to contend with. His older brother has learning difficulties and is languishing in a care home. Listening to his heart rather than his head, the boy knows he must get his brother, nicknamed Simple, out. But as their father is entirely preoccupied with his new wife, it's up to the boy to liberate Simple, and that means finding somewhere for them to live in the city. Funny, thought-provoking and clever, this French bestseller won the Prix SNCF du Livre de Jeunesse and was dramatised for French television; in Germany it won the prestigious Deutscher Jugendliteraturpreis.

This book was originally published in France in 2004, and it has won awards across Europe.  I have a theory that if a novel has been translated it's a book that I must read, as I believe that only the best books are ever translated.

The book is about 17 year old Kleber and his 22 year old brother Barnaby, known as Simple throughout the story.  While Barnaby may be the older brother, he has learning difficulties and has the IQ of a three year old.  Their mother has died, and their father has a new pregnant wife, who isn't comfortable being around Simple.  The obvious solution is to put Simple in to an institution, but after a brief stay, it's clear that Simple hates it, so Kleber comes up with a plan of his own.

Kleber is finishing his last year of High School in Paris, and he decides that he and Simple will live their together while he does so.  They find two rooms in a large flat share, their housemates are college students, all with their own issues. There's siblings Aria and Corentin, Aria's boyfriend Emmanuel and Enzo.  The arrival of Kleber and Simple mean changes are afoot among this group.

I love the way that we can see the true nature of each character in the way that they react to and interact with Simple.  Initially  there is some hesitance as to whether the rooms should even be let to the brothers, but Simple's unique charm manages to sway them.  Emmanuel, a medical student, can really only see Simple as a real life case study, and we immediately start to see chinks in his and Aria's relationship.  Enzo comes across as very brusque and was absolutely against Simple moving in, but it quickly becomes obvious that Enzo's heart is a lot bigger than he lets on, and he goes on to having the strongest relationship with simple of the three.  Corentin, is probably the quietest of the group, and he doesn't have too much contact with Simple, but it's Simple's astute observations that make him start making changes in his life.  Simple has the gift that we see so often with children, the gift of speaking the absolute truth.  Many may think this is far from a gift, but through his eyes we see things others are too polite/kind/proper to mention.  

While the three other housemates are going through their own mini drama's, Kleber is trying to keep it all together.  He not only has to be Simple's primary caregiver, even if he;s not there he has to make sure Simple is being looked after, plus he has to find time to study and his big goal is to find out more about girls.  There are two girls on the horizon, and through the course of the story and with the help of Simple's insights, there is a clear an obvious choice.  Kleber is a great character, he is perfectly portrayed, as while he has the adult parent relationship with Simple, he is still a normal teenage boy.

I have mentioned all of the major human characters, but there is another star in this book, and that's Mister Babbit.  Mister Babbit is Simple's stuffed toy rabbit that goes everywhere with him.  To Simple, he is more than a stuffed rabbit, he is a friend who he can talk to.  He is also the voice that encourages Simple to do a lot of the 'naughty' things that Simple does, like smashing the mobile to see if there's a little man inside.

This book is one of those wonderful marvels that can make you laugh out loud, break your heart and fill your heart with joy, and that is rare.  I will say that while this is a book for teenagers, I would recommend it for older teenagers as there's quite a lot of sex mentioned throughout, so that's something to bear in mind.

Who will like this book: Girls and boys age 16+
Read it if you like: the movie Rainman

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