Martin John is the man you don’t want to be sitting next to on the subway. He’s trying his best to keep his impulses under control. But when you have the urges that Martin John has, can you really stop?
Martin John is not a good person. His mind does not work the same way as other people. This leads him to do things to other people. He touches them. His mother has tried to stop him but the only thing she could do was to send him far from home. He’s sought help, he has his coping methods, but can it actually help?
Martin John, by Anakana Schofield, is a bold, brave, and disturbing novel that takes you inside the mind of a man every woman tries to avoid. It is a footnote to Schofield's first novel, Malarky, with Martin John a character in that book, but it is not necessary to have read that book first.
One of the best words to describe this book is uncomfortable. How can this subject matter not be? Schofield takes you inside the mind of a man who is an abuser, whose urges compel him toward unwanted touching. It can be a brush up against a woman on crowded transit or it can be lunging at a woman in an alley. It is all disturbing. And yet, it’s a book that you will call a good read, something that also makes the reader feel uncomfortable.
This book is so well-written, which is needed for this subject matter. It is not written as a typical novel, it happens in pieces, jumping around through time and events, a novel that is broken the same way its character is. What I appreciate the most about the writing is that the book actually isn’t judgmental. Nothing in the book screams “look at how horrible this man is, look at the horrible things he does, you must agree with how horrible he is.” And yet, it doesn’t try to make excuses for him and it doesn’t try to make you feel sorry for him either. It’s just an honest look inside the mind of a man who struggles with mental health issues, a man who is a sexual deviant.
Everything about this book is unique. Honestly, I probably wouldn’t have picked it up given the subject matter had it not been long listed (now shortlisted) for the Giller Prize. And it’s a hard book to recommend because you feel strange saying “it’s a fantastic book.” The subject may be difficult for some. But it is so well-written that it is a must read and it is very deserving of its nomination this awards season.