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Rocks in the Belly Paperback
- Language : English
- ISBN-10 : 1846688450
- ISBN-13 : 978-1846688454
- Dimensions : 13.5 x 2.2 x 21.6 cm
- Customer Reviews:
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Top reviews from Australia
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The novel has an unnamed narrator, told in interleaved sections as an adult in current time and a contemporaneous narrative as an 8 year old boy. The adult narrator returns home to visit his dying mother from his work overseas as a prison guard. As the story unfolds, the circumstances of his work and departure start to send alarm signals and it appears increasingly as though his life is unravelling.
This, then, is interwoven with an unhappy tale of childhood. The narrator's mother did not love him and much of the tone is set in terms of injustice that he was resented whilst his mother took in foster children with warmth. It must be said that the narrator was far from lovable - the question is whether his behaviour created the distance from his mother or whether that distance created a selfish and sadistic child. The behaviour certainly shocks without ever seeming sensational. Nor is it a straightforward cry for attention or help - the child has clearly given up on getting the love he needs and instead focuses on private acts of hurt and bullying.
So moving back to the adult, we find a man who apparently wants to reconcile himself with his mother before she dies. But there is no warmth on either side. Perhaps the narrator just wants to understand. As the story progresses, the figure of Robert McCloud, the last of the foster children, starts to take on a more prominent role. From the opening pages, where we see a photograph of him skydiving and learn that he is dead, it is clear that something happened and is being concealed. The revelation, delivered in stages, is timed to perfection.
The final impression is of a broken man, consumed by jealousy but also consumed by guilt and self-loathing. He externalises these feelings as hard lumps - rocks - in his belly. He remembers each and every slight and feels them as a weight. He has also learnt that despite the obvious injustices, he won't get any sympathy. He has no friends to offer sympathy, and he has become such a vile man that there's little danger of making friends. Ordering people around in prison is about the only way he will ever gain respect; ever convince himself that he isn't bottom of the heap. It doesn't stop him hankering after a better life and in one, desperate scene near the end the narrator tries to surround himself with other people's happy memories in an effort to believe he belongs to something.
Rocks In The Belly is haunting and bleak, but never tiresome. It is written in a flowing, engaging style. The people feel real; there are redeeming qualities in everyone - in the father and even in the terrible mother. There are moments of genuine warmth. There are also moments of absolute pain - moments where damage has been done and can never be undone. Moments when the reader wills things to turn out differently; wills time to turn back five minutes but to no avail. It's an unhappy story of human failing that will stay with you.
Top reviews from other countries
The author immerses you into the depths of a child's psyche, running parallel with his adult self,
and the later consequences of his actions.
Now, twenty years later, your mother is suffering from a brain tumour, and you’re the only one left to look after her. Returning home is bound to stir up memories of the past, and uncover just what exactly happened to Robert all those years ago.
If you imagine We Need to Talk About Kevin from the perspective of Kevin himself, then you’ve got a pretty good idea of what this book is like. Told through the eyes of our troubled and somewhat sociopathic protagonist, the story alternates between past and present, with the former of the two definitely being the more compelling storyline. In fact, the need to get back to the ‘past’ storyline was often what drove me to read through a chapter of the ‘present day’ material.
Overall, it’s a decent enough read, but the prose felt a little unsophisticated in places – there’s a tendency to shoehorn in one too many simile from time to time. It also felt like the author was desperate to point out the “classic” indicators of psychopathy trotted out in every crime show – namely bed-wetting, setting fires and cruelty to animals. Nonetheless, despite this lack of subtlety in places, I commend the author for writing something that left me feel genuinely unsettled. If you want more of a psychological type drama story, then consider giving this title a look.
The book is written in the first person, the narrator returning home from Canada to care for his dying Mother. She has Cancer of the brain and is so incapacitated by the time he arrives you are left wondering how she was left alone at home before he arrives. The main part of the story, however, focuses on him remembering many dreadful periods in his childhood. He has no living siblings but his parents fostered many children whilst he was young and eventually adopted one, Robert, who was six years older than the Narrator. Much of the remembering is about Robert, how he affected the Narrator, the impact that had on the family and their unravelling.
It is a novel about guilt and how it can distort lives and how children, particularly only children,often find it hard to share their parents with others. It is also a novel about how loss takes people in different ways but is always so difficult to deal with and how hard it I frequently is to understand and really empathise with someone else's perspective.
Even the cats die in this novel so not a 'cheerful read'! However the writing is powerful and graphic and the characterisation excellent so Bauer probably has a great career ahead as a novelist.
The story is gripping, although at times quite upsetting. The timeline is split between the young child who is dealing with the situation in which he is has no control, and the same child-turned-adult who is dealing with the decline of his mother's life. The impact of sharing his home with one particular foster child, led to events that have scarred them all forever, in more than one way. Dealing now with the impending death of his mother, brings the whole sorry story back to the forefront.
Overall, the story is a snapshot into the life of a child who wasn't equipped to deal with what was happening, and how those events changed his life forever. It is not the happiest of reads, but it is an interesting one.