Sunday 3 June 2012

The Terrible Thing that Happened to Barnaby Brocket by John Boyne

From the Irish author of 'The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas' comes a new novel for children set in Sydney.

Barnaby Brocket is born into a very normal family. Mr & Mrs Brocket pride themselves on how normal they fact, you could say, that they are desperate and obsessed with being normal.

I have edited this post several times because I don't want to give away any of the details about why Barnaby is not normal.

The tone of this book is light-hearted and full of humour, but it is also rather awful. Awful because of the parents - they're ghastly.

Although Boyne has exaggerated the 'bad parent' type, it is sadly a type you can recognise. The parent whose love is conditional on how well the child does at school, the parent who is so absorbed in their own life and their own needs that the children always come in second best, the ignored child, the guilted child, the child who is judged by their looks, their sexuality, their ability to please the parent and the children forced to parent themselves - just to name a few.

Sadly, Barnaby's adventures show him a lot of these dysfunctional families.

The joy and hope comes from how all the people Barnaby meets cope and rise above their various situations. How they all embrace their differences and take pride in themselves for who they are and what they can do.

Initially I felt this book was light-weight and had little emotional impact. But I read this book over 2 weeks ago and I'm still mulling over it.
I found it impossible to emulate Boyne's light & easy writing style to review this. He obviously has a talent for writing about pretty heavy issues in a way that is completely accessible with humour and grace.

The story is aimed at younger readers so some of the observations and morals are fairly clearly spelled out for an older reader, but I would recommend this book to anyone who enjoys a well-told story about courage, resilience and human nature.

Published by Random House in August.


  1. I hadn't heard of this book- now I see why, it's not published til August. I
    like John Boyne and would always be interested to read his new book- especially if it's set in Sydney! I can see you had some reservations, but I'll be keen to catch up with this one.

  2. I did enjoy the book Louise. The impact is lingering though in an unpredictable way. I've realised the story was more powerful than I first thought. It has also brought up memories of the 2 boys in The Boy With the Striped Pyjamas!
    Boyne has an uncanny knack of getting under my skin!!


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