All The Books I Can Read

1 girl….2 many books!

Review: Man Out Of Time by Stephanie Bishop

on February 21, 2019

Man Out Of Time
Stephanie Bishop
Hachette AUS
2018, 291p
Read from my local library

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

When Stella’s father, Leon, disappears in September 2001, the police knock at her door. She baulks at their questions, not sure how to answer. ‘What if I just write it down for you.’

One summer, a long time ago, Stella sat watching her father cry while the sky clouded over. He had tried to make amends: for his failures, for forgetting to buy the doll she once hoped for, for the terrible things he had done.

The first time Stella sensed that something was wrong was on her ninth birthday. There was an accident, and when she opened her eyes there was the tang of blood in her mouth. Leon was beside her. But not quite there. In the winter, when her father finally came home from hospital, he looked different. Looked at her differently.

Now he was missing, and Stella held the key to his discovery. But did he want to be found? And after all that has passed, could Stella bring herself to help him?

Stella’s whole life has been stained by her father’s very struggle to exist. Would this be her inheritance too? Could she choose the steady minutes of an ordinary day? Or would she follow the path of a man out of time?

A masterful and deeply moving novel about inheritance and self-destruction, and of how the memories we carry and the blood we share discolour our view of the world … and ourselves.

This is quite a hard review to write. In fact, probably one of the hardest I’ve had to tackle in a while. Every book has its challenges when it comes to writing reviews, some are much more challenging than others. This is another of the titles long listed for the Stella Prize and I’m not going to lie – at the time, I picked this one up to read because it was the slimmest of the ones I had in my possession and I was looking for something I could get read in the time that I had that day. However this was no quick, easy read at all. It’s a complex, detailed in some ways, vague in others type of story about mental illness and the effects that has on a family.

Stella is nine when there’s an ‘accident’ and after that her father goes away. Leon is treated for his condition, often with electroconvulsive therapy and when he returns, Stella is 14 and a typical teenager, at odds with her mother and in trouble for things like not going to school and smoking. Leon has trouble with this new Stella, who isn’t the child he remembers. It seems that while he was away, although his wife visited him, Stella did not. The two of them are almost like strangers when he returns and they have to reestablish their relationship, which is full of bumps in the road. There’s a scene that made me quite uncomfortable to read because I honestly thought it was going in a much more sinister direction than it did…..and I think that perhaps Stella was quite unnerved by it also.

Leon’s a character that’s hard to get a read on because of his illness. His actions are frequently frustrating and also sometimes, quite scary. His wife, Stella’s mother seems long resigned to managing this (and him) the best way she can and she soldiers on through her years of single parenting, after Leon is hospitalised and treated for his condition. When he’s ready for release, she takes him back, for where else does he have to go? Even though after five years of separation, it must feel like they’re not even really married anymore. It seems a sad and unfulfilling life for everyone at times and yet they are all trapped in it.

There were times when I really struggled through some parts of this book. The writing is very good but it’s not really my sort of style and sometimes the way in which the story was being told, things washed over me without me really absorbing them. I found myself having to go back and reread passages to make sure that I was actually taking in what was happening (going to be honest, sometimes that didn’t necessarily help!). It’s a very multi-layered read which drifts in and out of different time frames at different points and often we are presented with just a character’s viewpoint of what’s happening which doesn’t give the entire picture. Some character’s thoughts remain a mystery to the reader – I think I would’ve liked to know a lot more about Frances, Leon’s wife and Stella’s mother.

This is one of those books where I can see why it’s made the list – it’s tackling a very difficult topic and I think it addresses it in a unique and compassionate way and also a way that leaves much room for interpretation. But I didn’t love it, I found that my attention drifted a lot while reading it and it’s one of those books that kind of made me feel like I was missing things when I was reading it. It’s one of those things that’s hard to put a finger on but the story just didn’t touch me personally or affect me in the ways that it probably should have. The way it was told wasn’t particularly a way I enjoyed, even though I can see how beautiful the writing is in many places. Stephanie Bishop says a lot with few words and yet somehow I found myself wanting there to be more. And that’s just on me, personally. Although this wasn’t for me, I honestly won’t be surprised if it makes the shortlist.

Book #32 of 2019

Man Out Of Time is book #14 of the Australian Women Writers Challenge 2019 and the 4th book read from the Stella Prize Longlist.

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