In substance it's the tragically adventurous story of Elly and his brother, from the childhood to the mature age.
A Jewish neighbor, a lesbian aunt in love with her sister-in-law, an old but lively gentleman, a gay brother, a complexed and paranoic father, and, hear hear, this is only a quarter of the parade.
There is not an uniform line for which I could say "the story is about that": it's like a sandwich without art, where the more stuff you throw in, the more it should sound dense and fanciful. The truth is that when you try to eat something like that, at the least the half of the sandwich slides out of your hands, falling to the ground ingloriously.
I would call it a series of a thousand episodes which focus on a single and always different event, that naturally has to be tragic, otherwise there is not the necessary drama to make it look like it has something really touching and deep to say.
Yes, I known too what it wants to tell: it wants to deal with the pain of growing up too much quickly, with time, particulary with the past that knocks always to the door of the present, sometimes longed and sometimes not, obviously it talks about the tragic imprevedibilty of life too, because at the fourth of fifth calamity even an oaf would understand that, maybe, there is a logic sense in proposing all these little human apocalypses.
I would say that it speaks of an out-and-out divine persecution against unaware and mere mortals: obviously the persecutor is one of those remarkable "absences-presences". He's not there, but you known that all this morass could have a sense only if you understand that he has been contemplated and he's clearly one of the main characters.
Because here the only way to justify the author's conduct is taking it with a lot of philosophy. In what other manner I could look at this sort of tragicomic theatre of the absurd if not like that?
I'd like to know only one thing: when Sarah Winman was making plans for this plot, was she smiling at least at this endless series of catastrophes that fall down on the family she has created or did she really took herself seriously?
Other people who have read this book have even said that the costant humor mitigates a lot the marked drama. Where is it? But these characters are desperated, that's that. They don't even exhale a bitter laugh and if they comment their highly unbelievable situation, they do it only with the discouragement of veterans who take the burden of their tragedies.
It's this thing that I don't like about the book: Winman believes that she could make her characters deep only if she inflicts to them all the possible pains that come to her mind, creating an melanchonic atmosphere which doesn't nourish itself of a deep analysis of one or two points, but only of events on events which land on the characters, without even giving the time for a more linear and stretched development.
Right, another thing I had difficulties appreciating is the fragmentary structure. How much it doesn't help in a story with burdensome contents. Metabolism is important, woman! You cant' expect me to keep up with your story even emotionally if I don't have the time to say "oh, poor sods, what a bad thing" that another tragedy happens to them, and another one and another one again. I save my breath and I read in silence. And my silence hides differents thoughts at this point: the story is becoming ridiculous. Too many irons in the fire.
Sure: the last exploit with 11th September has to be thrown in too, once that Winman got a taste for it. Even if at the end it has nothing do to with the story of the character in question (let's leave aside the existential why about it, I've given up), it was only a passing event that the author has to insert in her big sandwich, the temptations was too intense.
On the other hand Elly's reactions are not bad, but if there weren't this ambition and pretentiousness behind her, from the author, it would have been different.
PS: I didn't understand why Joe who breakes his leg playing football is foretold like "an event that will change our lives". Uh? How a plaster of some weeks can be the all this titanic event? One can justify it with a lot of labor, but..Winman lets the thing fall and nothings changes. You are kidding yourself, then! There is no need of my help!