My Brother Simple by Marie-Aude Murail
|The troublesome Mister Babbit on the cover of My Brother Simple|
Think of the film Rainman and just make the characters years, years younger. Like seventeen and twenty-two. And put it into French. That’s almost My Brother Simple for you. Except of course, this is a new edition translated into English. The original French edition was published in 2004 and has won numerous awards across Europe.
My Brother Simple is a coming of age story from a boy’s perspective which is a refreshing difference for me. Kleber is seventeen, about to start at a sixth form college in Paris, desperate to get ‘to know’ girls, and he has a big heart. He’s totally committed to keeping his ‘I-di-ot’ brother Simple (real name Barnaby) out of institutions and this means having to find a flatshare that will accept them both.
Finding a flatshare is a bit difficult when twenty-two year old Simple insists on bringing out an army of Playmobil and revolvers, and threatens to brandish his ‘knife’ (something he keeps in his trousers and that girls don’t have). And that’s even before Mister Babbit makes an appearance – which is frequent (like always)! This obviously also provides plenty of comedy for the story.
There are some bits about this book that I’m not so sure I like. For example, I didn’t like the way the boys (or young men; Kleber is the youngest) thought about girls. They were a bit crude and a bit gross for me (I suppose that might be young lust for you but guys, you could be a bit nicer!). I’m not sure the novel challenges stereotypes as much as I thought it would.
But I also laughed reading this book. Actually, I smiled to myself and laughed quite a lot. It’s probably up there among the funniest books I’ve read. And I kept on wanting to read on. It really is a very funny book. And, their grossness aside, some of the boys in it are actually lovely characters, like Kleber and Enzo.
I did enjoy this book and I would recommend it for older teen readers. The publishers recommend it for ages 14+ and they’re probably right if I think of the teens I know. I think many adults will enjoy this novel too.
Bloomsbury Childrens, London, 2 August 2012, 288pp., paperback
This copy: received for review from the publisher