Sunday, January 13, 2013

Reading: The Anatomy School by Bernard MacLaverty

"If it matters at all, it must matter completely."

The Anatomy School by Bernard MacLaverty is the story of Martin Brennan, an Irish Catholic school boy repeating his final year in school.  Knowing he must pass this time around, he and his two friends Kavanagh and Blaise Foley decide to take a big risk that will hopefully help them to pass their final exams.  The book revolves around the boys witty conversations, tea time with Martin's mother and her friends, and the silent retreat Martin attends in the beginning of the novel.  The book's plot, like another book I have read titled White Noise by Don DeLillo, is somewhat invisible and consists mostly of day to day activities that metaphorically speak for the book.  The themes of sleep, photography, education, and the pressures from the Catholic faith push this story forward and make it impossible to not be able to relate to Martin's struggle in some way.
I bought this book in Oswego, New York at a dollar store.  I am always drawn to the book section in stores but it isn't often that the dollar store has books I want to read.  This book caught my eye initially because of the title.  At the time, my friend was struggling with her anatomy class and I thought the book would be something great to give her.  But this book is not really about anatomy school.  The title seems to point more to what happens at an anatomy school that changes the main character Martin in the end. 
The first 2/3 of this book were good for me.  I didn't love it but I found it engaging.  I had read some reviews of the book on and saw a lot of people had stopped reading after 60 pages because they were bored but I was never bored while reading The Anatomy School.  One thing I loved about the book was how peaceful it was.  It consisted of everyday nights where you have trouble falling to sleep and everyday school days with your friends.  This peacefulness helped me connect greatly to the main character.  I also really liked Martin for most of the book because I related greatly to him.  His experience in school, the emotional aspect, I could relate to very well.  That feeling of being accepted and being scared to speak out and being afraid to have your own opinion about something.  That being said, the last 1/3 of the book was a real let down for me.  For one, the book randomly jumped a few years forward and confused me for a good fifteen pages.  It also did not fully address what the result was of the first 2/3 of the story.  I mean, sure it addressed it in a subtle way that wasn't overly obvious but the story was building up and, in my opinion, deserved a better reveal of the outcome of the boys struggle from the first part of the book. 
There were a few other things I did not like about this book.  In the first part of the book, a lot of scenes take place in the classroom at the Catholic school.  One scene is in a religious class in which is required for the students to take so they can understand what it means to be a Catholic.  In the scene, Martin's friend Blaise decides to push the rules and states, what if someone doesn't believe in God.  The priest/teacher wants to discuss this issue but, like most classes, the boys are too afraid to speak their true feelings aloud in front of the class.  I was excited to read about future classes but this did not happen.  Never again did the book visit this class and it was disappointing.  I wanted to see the debates and hoped it would have challenged not only the students but the priest/teacher.  Another thing I did not like was the climax.  The climax is the title of the book...meaning what happened at the anatomy school.  What happens you ask?  Here is a spoiler...Martin loses his virginity to an Australia woman he just met and never sees again.  Not only was this cliche but it was such an anticlimactic climax.  This entire story led up to Martin having sex for the first time?  That was the climax for this book about religion that could have said a lot more?  It implies that sex is ALWAYS the most important thing that changes a person for the better.  In fact, when Martin had sex (another spoiler), he was neglecting a promise he made to a friend.  His friend, Kavanagh from school, had to do a science experiment at the anatomy school but was going to be away for the night and asked Martin to cover the night-shift for him which Martin did.  Every hour Martin had to kill a mouse and record what time he did it.  The times mattered.  Having sex, Martin missed many of the hours and so killed the mice all at one time and wrote down false times.  He then went on to blame his friend for this mishap, claiming that his friend was changing because of his girlfriend wanting him to commit to his faith and it was all Kavanagh's fault.  Martin needs to grow up and start taking responsibility.  I much liked first part of the book Martin, not second part Martin who grew cocky and just plain stupid and annoying.
Overall, the book seemed to be saying that you don't need religion which I agree with but it also said you don't need God at all.  You need to rely on yourself.  My favorite part of the book though is a quote from Kavanagh in part two when he talks about his girlfriend.  He says, "Her Christianity is so important.  It's not a superficial thing - like music or how you wear your hair.  It's her whole life...I have to promise I'll try to...believe more.  It's no good just living a life of correctness.  She says it has to come from [my heart]...she wants me to accept the Lord as my Savior.  I have to accept I'm a sinner."  This is where I was hoping the book would go and it didn't at all.  Martin was instead left as a guy who was cocky and just a glass half-empty sort of guy and he developed as a character but seemed to move backwards instead of forwards.  I will give this book 3 out of 5 stars.  I liked the first part a good deal but the second part/ending was a huge letdown and the book did not seem to go much anywhere.

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