Tuesday, March 15, 2011

The Gift – Cecelia Ahern

This is a difficult book for a bloke to read. Ok, you might expect that from an author of what might be loosely described as chic lit (a term I use in a totally uncontemptuous way, as you can probably tell if you look at the kind of stuff I read), but I don’t think you can describe this book as chic lit. It’s about a man, for starters. And it’s about how a man relates to work and family. That’s what makes it hard to read – like any man with a family I suppose (and probably any woman with a family come to think of it, although whether that’s the same experience or a different experience I’m not willing to comment here) I struggle with these and don’t feel I always get it right. And perhaps being written by a woman makes it feel a little less sympathetic somehow? Would I have felt differently about it if it had been written by a man, with every word the same, like Pierre Menard’s infinitely superior Don Quixote? Or what if the main character had been a woman? Who knows.

It’s a good book, but I felt it had been written in a bit of a hurry. Maybe I just read it quickly. And I wasn’t entirely satisfied by the ending. If you had just one night of life, wouldn’t you spend it with your family and wife? One aspect of it that made me particularly uncomfortable though: if like the main character, I spent my last night alive with my wife and as a result left her with not two but three children to look after on her own, she’d kill me!

It reminded me though of the story of Evariste Gallois, the mathematician, who according to popular legend (if not actual historical fact) knew he was going to die in a duel the next morning, and so spent the night writing up his mathematical ideas – leading to field of Gallois Theory which fascinated me at university, not least because he proved that it was impossible to do several things that people had been trying to do since ancient Greek times. What if Evariste Gallois had instead spent his last night on earth with his wife and children? Wouldn’t the world be a poorer place for it? Mind you, perhaps if he’d had a wife and children he wouldn’t have been involved in a duel at all. But that’s another story.