Life: An Exploded Diagram
Life: An Exploded Diagram is an ambitious novel about the effects of war on three generations in the bleak countryside of Norfolk. Working-class teenager Clem Ackroyd falls in love with Frankie Mortimer, the daughter of a wealthy local landowner (and his father’s employer), and they both know that their love is dangerous. The year is 1962 and the world teeters on the brink of war over Cuba, and the horror that may rain down on the young lovers is always in the background. Mal Peet weaves in flashbacks of Clem’s grandmother and parents and their experiences during the World Wars, and brings the story forward to the 21st century.
Mal Peet’s novel explores the lives of ordinary people defined by the crises of war. Clem’s grandmother, Win, is drawn particularly well, and her single-minded bitterness is understandable. Clem’s parents, especially his father George, are more sparsely portrayed. The story is focused on Clem’s experience and his illicit affair with Frankie. Their relationship is believable, although the reader feels (as do they) that it is doomed. Peet interrupts the narrative to tell the parallel story of the Cuban Missile Crisis via Clem’s adult voice. The complex events are unveiled in a comprehensible way – all the more so with Clem’s commentary. However, ultimately the historical narrative seems to rob power from Clem’s story. Clem’s experience is more than sufficient to show us the effect of war on ordinary people. Mal Peet’s novel is well written, and recommended to readers who are interested in an unusual take on the Cuban Missile Crisis.
400 (US), 416 (UK)