Thursday, 31 October 2013

Swimming and Flying (Mark Haddon)

--The blurb--
"Prize-winning novelist Mark Haddon, author of THE CURIOUS INCIDENT OF THE DOG IN THE NIGHT-TIME and most recently THE RED HOUSE, explores his childhood fear of swimming and his adult fear of flying in a[n..] essay that unfolds into [...] reflections about the craft of writing and about life itself."

--The review--
A quick search on Amazon reveals a staggering choice of nearly 592,000 results in the field of biography - so you'd think that the market was saturated. However, in the midst of all the celebrity fluff and traditional chronological structures has come a breath of fresh air in the form of Mark Haddon's effort, entitled Swimming And Flying. While some cunning individuals have uploaded it to the web as a PDF, it is unfortunately only officially available as a Kindle Single, which is a shame, as this could potentially block out a significant number of Haddon's fans: those who don't own a Kindle, mainly, but also those who just prefer 'real' books.

This is also a great shame due to the fact that Swimming And Flying, as mentioned, truly refreshes the biography genre thanks to its clear yet 'patchwork' style: Haddon's structuring of the text into short passages, rather than chapters, allows for true pauses for thought, and the text's genesis as a series of speeches (or 'stand-up serious', as Haddon himself dubs it) lends this biography an especially intimate, down-to-earth aspect.

There is, equally, plenty of mileage not just in this autobiography's style but also in its premise of 'swimming and flying': while Haddon does address his fears of these two pursuits (as a child and as an adult respectively), the metaphorical translations of 'swimming' and 'flying' through life itself is also heavily implied thanks to Haddon's ability to overcome these fears and to deal with other good and bad times in his life so far. This wide basis of the memoir ensures that all readers will find something within it that they can identify with, and, moreover, repeatedly: the accessible method of using short passages means that rereads are merited, as readers can dip in and out, making further connections between different sections and between the author's life and theirs.

By laying his fears bare, Haddon shows that he is as flawed as anyone else. However, by also showing details of how he has overcome them, he is inspirational without being smug. Tales of determination are always of value - and it is simply to be hoped that this mini-memoir will eventually be published beyond the Kindle Single format, so that many more readers can benefit.

other works by Mark Haddon
The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time (2003)
A Spot of Bother (2006)
The Red House (2012) 

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