Martin John by Anakana Schofield


25074204We all wonder what is going on inside the mind of a sexual deviant, right?

Harm was done./ But he liked it./ It was hard to credit that harm had been done when you liked it.

This book is weird and uncomfortable. And the more you read, the more squirmy you will become. But, it’s worth it.

So you know he’s kept busy, so you don’t have to worry he might be beside you on the Tube, or following you about, or thinking about your body parts. He’s thinking only about words with the P at the start. So you do not need to worry about what else he has been thinking about. He has only thought about P words.

Anakana Schofield’s first book, Malarky, was one of my favourite books last year. This one is different; it is darker, creepier. But it is every bit as clever and bold. Fans of Malarky will feel a bit like they are back in the world of ‘Our Woman’, except, instead, you are in the world of another woman with a son who is causing her some troubles of a different sort. Martin John’s world is full of circuits and Meddlers, newspapers and flesh, Baldy Conscience and his mother’s nagging voice.

What would it be like to be the mother of a sexual deviant? How far would you go to help him? Stop him? Send him away? Or maybe tie him to a chair?

She did not like the idea she had a role in it./ You would not like the idea you had a role in it./ Did she have a role it it?/ Have you had a role in it?/ Do you have a role in this?/   These are some of the questions a mother may ask herself.

–We’ve got to get you out, mam said when she saw the state of him. If you can’t stop it, we’ve to stop it./   Could he stop it? What would he stop?/   –Stop what, he said. She will not go further. She would never give voice to that which she wished stopped.

And, then there is the girl, his victim of 20 years ago.

She remembers when she is nervous for her children. Never lets them alone. Calculates each and every situation for potential. The presentation of a smidgen of opportunity never evades her.

Schofield guides us on a tour of this man’s mind without telling us how or what to feel about it. She just lays it all out, and lets us decide for ourselves. There is confusion in the way we feel, just like there is confusion in the way Martin John feels about himself and his life, and the way his mother feels about him. Does it make us angry? Sick? Do we feel sorry for him? One thing is for sure, we hope to God we will never have to worry about it with our own children.

What was your reaction to this book?

Martin John is long-listed for the 2015 Scotiabank Giller prize this year, and I would be happy to see it make the short-list.

This review in the Globe and Mail talks about the book in more detail, and asks “Are we inside Martin John’s head, or someone else’s attempt to decipher him?“.

24 thoughts on “Martin John by Anakana Schofield

  1. Lynn @ Smoke & Mirrors says:

    Wow…this sounds super intense! Doubt I’ll ever read it. I’m just not interested in being inside the mind of a criminal. Honestly, I don’t want to know how or what they’re thinking. As usual, a great review!

  2. whatmeread says:

    This one certainly sounds different. It’s amazing to me how a good writer can take a subject like that and make it absolutely fascinating. I had the same reaction to Lolita by Nabokov. The subject matter was abhorrent to me, but at the same time, he made me understand the main character.

    • Naomi says:

      It was surprisingly easy to read considering the subject matter. But, I did have another book on the go, in case I needed to take a little break from Martin John. And, there was some humour in the book, too – dark humour, but humour all the same.

      Funny thing: Every time I look at the title of my blog post, I think it says Martian John. Bi g difference. 🙂

    • Naomi says:

      I was wondering the same thing. Research? First hand knowledge (but, I hope not)? Or just a good imagination? Maybe all 3 put together.

  3. Denise says:

    Interesting. I less want to know what’s in the mind of the criminal than what’s in the mind of his mother dealing with him and loving him also, as her son. I have a friend, whose brother is a convicted sex offender, and I wonder if this would help in understanding what she and her family are going through in regards to him. She doesn’t talk about it much and when I’ve asked her she’s fairly unable to say how she feels. I’ll have to put this on my list and think about reading it.

    • Naomi says:

      Hmm… I’m trying to think about how helpful this book would be for your friend. It tells of her reluctance to admit to her son’s problem, and her confusion and helplessness and shame. Obviously, most sex offenders have some kind of family left wondering and grieving and helpless to it all.
      I don’t think it would hurt to read it!

  4. Heather says:

    This sounds amazing! In a strange way I really like reading books that explore the darker minds of society. When written well I think they are better than anything else. Thanks for the great review – I’ll definitely be checking this book out.

    • Naomi says:

      Yay! I’m happy to hear it. If you like off-the-wall books that explore dark minds, then I think you’ll like this one. It really is well done. I’m sure there are so many more smart things to discover about it in another reading.

    • Naomi says:

      A lot of the book is written in short sentences that take up a whole line, like a poem, usually when the character is talking/thinking to him/herself. It helps to break up the thoughts, take a pause, before heading into the next train of thought. There are also a lot of conventional paragraphs in the book.
      Did I explain that okay?

    • Naomi says:

      And, there are so many more! This was one of those books that it took me almost as long to choose the quotes as it did to write the review. 🙂

  5. Carole Besharah says:

    I love books that are “weird and uncomfortable”. This one didn’t jump put at me until I read your review. I’ve got four Giller-nominated books on reserve at my library. They are all new and “in technical services”. Garrrrggghhhh. So, I guess I’ll have to rely on you and others for feedback. I’m waiting for the shortlist to buy one or two of those books. 🙂


    • Naomi says:

      I am having the same problem with some of the Giller books. They are either too new or too obscure for my library to have them. (I bought Martin John, because I loved Malarky.) I have requested a couple of the ones I’m more interested in reading, but who knows when they’ll come. Oh well! In the meantime, there are a few other books to read… 🙂

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