Hello Internet. And to continue with the pattern, Review #7. You thought I was going to say “welcome back” didn’t you? I knew it. And huzzah, another historical fiction. But don’t worry, I don’t like this one.
As I’ve surely mentioned before, I don’t like historical fiction. I also don’t like naïve or overtly stupid characters, and some perspectives should never have been written in. The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas is a culmination of all three. I could spend ages deciding why this particular itch is one I cannot wait to laser-blast off of my shin, but I suppose I’m going to tell you why these three things bug me the way they do and how T.B.I.S.P. places too much emphasis on these traits that I would rather scrub the skin off my hands than bother reading them again.
The first problem I have, and this is from the front cover alone, is that this novel is historical fiction. Now I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. History is interesting, detailed and sombre enough. There is absolutely no need to add in fictional characters (especially naïve and complaining little tikes), sometimes inaccurate plot lines and devices and touching yet soppy endings for characters that have the emotional stereotypes that are (as my friend Hanelts used to say) literally worse than Hitler. Not an excuse.
Secondly, after the first few pages you realise that the ridiculously young lead character is so naïve and unobservant that it’s a wonder that he can see past his nose. Now don’t get me wrong, a childlike character can really add a lot of depth and perception to a novel, if used in the right context and way. But when the reader always knows everything that’s going on and the character has no idea, it drives a barrier of dumb insolence in between the character and the reader that just makes the lead look stupid and dull. We were all kids once, but get over it already.
Finally, in a sort of combination of the last two reasons, the perspective of a young child from powerful parents who, unbeknownst to his family, makes friends with a mere commoner and goes exploring with him is overused to the point of clichéd. Ever read the Prince and the Pauper? Look, just because the character doesn’t know any better doesn’t give the author the excuse to make every action he takes seem justified or logical. It’s almost like the character thinks “oh, I’ve just met a kid on the other side of this tall, chain-link and barbed-wire fence who’s dirty and malnourished, let’s not tell anyone about him or even ask who he is because he’s clearly not important to the adults at all.”
Look, this book is a perfect example of when an attempt to write a meaningful story about an innocent kid can muddle up the things that really enhance a story, say, characters that aren’t as clear as glass and plots that don’t have holes the size of New Mexico. I mean, he doesn’t tell anyone about this boy he found? Really?
The Boy in Striped Pyjamas was published in 2006 by David Fickling Books. It can be found on Amazon here.
Yours: J.M. Pear