Last summer I did an internship at Canongate books. That was an amazing experience. I was part of the marketing and publicity folks, doing press releases and emailing famous people. One of my jobs was going through newspapers and magazines looking for reviews of Canongate releases. Bed by David Whitehouse was a constant winner and it was one of the many books that I had to take away with me. And wow, I'm glad I did.
Malcom Ede decides one day that he's never getting out of bed. He stays there twenty years, growing morbidly obese, and then some. The story is told by Mal's younger brother who recalls awkward childhood memories while considering the fraternal relationship. Initially, I was just concerned about what a jealous younger brother might have to say, and how bitter feelings might manifest themselves. That was very much a strand of the narrator's story, but what struck me was how immediately I was sucked into their world. It's a very real world that I think anyone in any family can recognise, despite how bizarre and heartbreaking some events may be. The narrator is so honest about many things, especially the disappointments of childhood and they're retold with feeling as raw as the day they were felt. And yet there was always such a sense of comfort to it all. Bed included what I like to call the Lolita effect (and I'm not for any moment equating those crimes with morbid obesity): that way of making something that seems so instinctively wrong feel okay, totally natural. Like it or not, there is something disturbing and grotesquely fascinating about the idea of a fifty stone man attached to his bed. But the narrator makes the reader really feel for him, for his family, for Mal, and for the whole situation.
The first however many pages were spent wanting to know why, really wanting to find out what would possess an attractive and successful twenty five year old to go to bed and never get out. And without giving too much away (because I really enjoyed that slow 'what is it?' looming), I get it. I turn twenty five in July and really, I totally get it. Part of me is with Mal, and I think a lot of readers could say the same.
Bed was a great read, fascinating because it was both surreal and real at once. Each of the characters was brilliantly drawn, and my heart went out (sometimes very achingly) to all of them. I've read some books this year where I didn't give two whatevers to some of the characters, but here I really found something to love in all of them. Bed seems to be referred to as a coming-of-age novel, and it many ways it is, only that the coming-in-age keeps on going, two brothers in their forties still learning so much. Tender and clever; yeah, I liked this book a lot.