Irene Sabatini


The Boy Next Door


Could not handle the style.


I’ve read things using this sort of voice before – childlike, short sentences, bland, simple – but never enjoyed them as more than novelty. A child’s/adolescent’s voice doesn’t have to be like this, and I’ve celebrated alternatives in things like Banks’ impressive Feersum Endjinn. Indeed there’s lots of decent teen fiction that catches it out there (e.g. Craig Silvey’s Jasper Jones). I relished the way Gene Wolfe utilised an innocent’s perspective in the glorious Knight. But here this style just killed me. Even more than Kate Grenville and Carrie Tiffany, who can be similarly detached and emotionless, but at least offer some range of sentence length, and greater depth of description. Here’s a (seriously) random excerpt:

Mpiri says that the young master is sleeping in the boys kaya with him. Mphiri scratches his head and says that this is not right. The young master sleeps right on the floor without even a mattress. He sleeps on a grass mat. Maphosa says that maybe now Mpiri will see reason and go back home. Even white people are afraid of Amadhlozi, the spirits who want to avenge a grave wrongdoing. Rosanna does not believe Mphiri. A white person would never do that. She cannot even imagine them using the same toilet as Mpiri. Mapiri is just getting too old. White people need electricity….

And so it goes – on and on and on. You could imagine it as a massive telegram, with someone saying ‘STOP’ at every full stop – which occurs about every ten words or so. But its not merely the irritating pacing; the descriptions are all in this simplistic style. That would be fine, perhaps, as a single character – but as the constant narrator, I just didn’t want to be there after a hundred or so pages (actually, well before then, but I stuck it out for a bit waiting for something better). Even though some of the events were significant and the characters potentially interesting, the narrative style seemed to make them both less so.


February 2014