Book review – Lette’s well used formula shows

2012-08-24 15:34

Kathy Lette has long had a reputation for shocking her readers and the tone of her books is humorous and self-deprecating, which is refreshing, but in this latest offering some of her lines seem almost formulaic.

The issue is topical – scatterbrained Lucy and her husband Jeremy marry in a whirlwind of love and romance and have their first child not much later: but he is autistic.

This is when all the fault lines in the relationship begin to show: Jeremy’s stuffy family in Cheltenham (his father is a Tory MP for Wiltshire) and his mother, who is prone to “bolted-on politeness and more make-up than Barbara Cartland”, think Lucy is the problem and her own family is vaguely dysfunctional, so she has no one to fall back on when Merlin’s condition is diagnosed.

“Autism is a lifelong developmental disability which affects how a person relates to other people – a disorder of neural development,” his parents are told.

And so begins the catalogue of pain and sorrow, as well as the pride and fierce protectiveness which makes up the life of the mother of an autistic child.

Predictably, Jeremy becomes immersed in his work and Lucy frets about everything from whether it was her failure to feng shui her aura in yogalates classes to whether too many black-humoured jokes about pregnancy jinxed the birth.

Lucy, however, won’t accept the doctor’s black and white terms while the prism of her love still bathes him in bright and captivating colours. We arrive at the fundamental premise of the book: “It was Merlin and me against the world,” Lucy declares.

What follows is at times sad and at others, hilarious, as Lucy describes visits to all sorts of different “specialists” – social workers, psychologists, paediatricians, occupational therapists and assorted experts. She tries everything from cranial massage to karma maintenance while Jeremy buries himself in his work and implores his wife not to tell anybody.

Predictably it is not long before Jeremy falls into the arms of a TV chef with a false tan and blames Lucy’s absorption with her son for his neglect.

That is just the beginning, as we follow the helter-skelter route of Lucy and Merlin through his chaotic teens and Lucy’s desperate efforts at relationships with other adults.

Lette has obviously researched her material well and manages to make light of a taxing and, at times, desperate, situation while still communicating the wonder of a child, and then a young adult, who is so very “different”.

The value of The Boy Who Fell To Earth is that it explains the anguished journey of parents of autistic children, and obviously educates those of us who haven’t experienced this first hand, in an open, accessible and amusing way.

Just occasionally, though, the jokes seem a little too artificially manufactured.

The Boy who Fell to Earth by Kathy Lette, Random House (2012), 336 pages, R195

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