I read this book for the Waterstone’s book club. It was not a book that I would normally pick up, but I’m glad I did.
“This is a book about phobias and obsessions, isolation and dark corners. It’s about families, friendships, and carefully preserved secrets. But above everything else it’s about love. Finding love – in any of its forms – and nurturing it.”
This is a book about a young man called Greg. He is afraid of them and has panic attacks whenever he seems them. He doesn’t fit in at school. On the outside his has the perfect suburban family. Dad is a plastic surgeon, mum does hairdressing on the side but mainly stays at home to look after the family and his sister is obsessed with dancing.
Greg is different to his family. He enjoys classic movies, he seals every crack in his room to prevent them from getting in. Greg falls in love with a girl at school. He wants to run away with her and look after her. Protect her. Unfortunately, love never works out that way.
I am now going to answer the discussion questions that were included at the end of the book.
- The Social disparity between Skipdale and The Pitts sets the scene for the novel. Why do you think this is important?
I think this is important because it shows how people on both ends of the spectrum live. I think it’s important to show the environment Greg was raised in comparison to Alice so that we can see just how different their lives are and how the only reason they met is because of school.
2. What motivates Greg to tell his story?
I think Greg wanted everyone to understand how he felt about Alice and the fact that to him it was real. He did have feelings for Alice even though he didn’t display them in the conventional way.
3. Did this novel contribute to your understanding of phobias?
Yes definitely. It made me realise that my phobias are just the tip of the iceberg in comparison to what some people suffer with. It made me understand just how horrible a phobia can be and how awkward it can make your everyday life.
4. Greg’s parents are fixated on projecting a perfect image. How does this contrast to the reality of their situation?
Greg’s dad is a plastic surgeon and his mum spends her time perfecting each room of the house so that she can impress the right people. I think they do as a coping mechanism. They know Greg has a mental illness and that Sarah (Greg’s sister) has an eating disorder, but they want the outside world to think they have the perfect family life. In order to do this, they try and socialise with all the right people and create the appearance of a perfect family life.
5. Can we see Greg’s obsession with classic Hollywood films influencing his own outlook on life and on romance in particular?
Yes. I think Greg thinks that romance and being in love should be dramatic with a happy ending where the couple run off together. I think he expects relationships to be like those in the films and doesn’t realise that in the real world, relationships are a lot more complicated then that.
6. Do you feel sympathy for Greg’s mother?
Honestly? No. I feel like she hasn’t done enough to support Greg. I understand that she had to put Sarah first after the incident but I feel like Greg was just an inconvenience sometimes and she didn’t know what to do or how to help him. She was too busy trying to show everyone how perfect her life was that she forgot about her son.
7. How far do you think the author has used Greg’s social alienation to expose intricate truths about our modern lives?
I think James has shown how easy it is to become alienated and live in a fantasy world. It so easy for someone to go days or weeks without talking to another person. To build up a fantasy of how they would like things to be until eventually you start to believe more in the fantasy world then you do in reality.
8. Sarah accuses her mother of being repressed. What part does repression play in the novel as a whole and how does it manifest?
I think repression is an important feature of the novel. The Hall family repress their feelings, they brush things under the carpet and carry on acting like they have the perfect little family until eventually everything reaches boiling point. You see this when Greg’s mother orders the perfect settee for the living room so that when their friends came round for dinner they would be impressed and see how beautiful the house is. You see it when Sarah practises non stop for her dance show. She’s doing so that she doesn’t have to focus on the other issues within the family.