The Boys are Back by Simon Carr

This memoir of a widowed father raising two boys by himself in New Zealand and England had me laughing aloud within the first pages, and then on the verge of tears a few pages later. It's so well written and downright hilarious at times that this book is worth picking up. I read it from cover to cover, but found myself tempted to bookmark pages and go back to them. I even read pieces of it to my husband because I found parts both amusing and surprisingly informative.
Goodreads review:"So there we are, a father and two sons in a household without role models, males together in a home different from anything I'd known—an idyllic Lost Boys' world with a house full of children and as few rules as possible."

When Simon Carr's wife Susie lost her battle with cancer, Carr was left to raise his 5-year old son, Alexander, on his own. Soon after, Hugo, his 11-year old son from a previous marriage comes to live with them. Now, this motley crew of boys has to learn how to be a family. Along the way, Carr reveals some illuminating truths about parenting and the differences between mothers and fathers. His messy household bears no similarity to the immaculate home his wife kept; his response to mothers on the playground fretting about his son's safety on the handlebars is, "If he falls, at least he'll know not to do it again." Emotionally honest and sharply witty, Carr's story is at once heartbreaking and wonderfully life-affirming.

I think where the THE BOYS ARE BACK (also called THE BOYS ARE BACK IN TOWN in earlier editions) is flawed is in its severe lack of plot consistency (which coincidentally is what the movie version of the novel manages to correct). It has next to no structured plot, and reads more like a series of short stories, or excerpts on life rather than an actual novel. In saying that, its lack of structure certainly reflects the household Carr is portraying, so perhaps when taken in that light, it's merely a rather poetic technique? It seems to jump in time quite a bit, and I was never quite sure exactly how old the boys were, and it was only thanks to the Part 1-3 headings like "England" that gave me some clue.

The memoir almost reads as a self-help guide for solo dads, although at times it's more like a "what not to do" guide. Carr is at times exceptionally un-PC, heartbreakingly honest and freethinking. This book won't be for everyone, and I wouldn't be surprised if a lot of people who read it completely disagree about everything he says. For example:
"Whenever you hear a parent say 'You'll put someone's eye out with that!' on average it's the mother and when you hear a parent say 'If you stretch you could get the next branch up' it usually seems to be the father... The reason fathers underestimate risk may be that we just care less than mothers do.

This isn't to say we fathers don't care, we just don't care as much. Of course we will run into burning buildings to save our little ones, but we don't feel the scrape ourselves when they scrape their knees."

However, whether you agree or disagree with Carr's liberal views, at the very least this memoir does provide a different point of view on parenting. And it made me laugh. So what more could you want in a novel?

WritersBlockNZ's Verdict: 7/10



N. R. Williams said...

I think father's care as much as mother's but it is expressed differently. Perhaps he needed a mother for a friend who would be able to help with that. I always like to laugh.
N. R. Williams, fantasy author

Dawn Embers said...

I've never really read any memoirs or much in the humor section but it does sound interesting. It's a little less common to hear from a single father's point of view and that is something I would be interested in. I would imagine the structure of a memoir is different than general fiction but I don't know much about the genre to know for sure.

WritersBlockNZ said...

I've read a few memoirs and there's usually more structure. The reason I picked it up was because the POV was so unusual. It's definitely worth reading!

L'Aussie said...

Ha Ha. I love the sound of this book and as you say JJ the lack of structure may be deliberate to reflect the chaos in the household. Great review. I must buy it as funny stuff is hard to come by!


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