Exposure by Mal Peet
|Exposure by Mal Peet
|Reviewer: Jill Murphy
|Summary: More wonderful stuff from Mal Peet in a genre-defying novel of great thematic depth and complexity. Hung around an updating of Othello, it talks about football, homelessness, politics and celebrity culture, and it grabs you from beginning to end.
|Date: October 2008
Mal Peet's third Paul Faustino novel (with the first two most shamefully unreviewed by Bookbag) is an updated version of Othello, hung, as ever, around football in an unnamed South American country. Otello is a star black Northern footballer, recently transferred to a predominantly white Southern club, run by a corporate and racist board. When he marries Desmerelda, a spoiled pop princess and daughter of one of the club's moneymen, their romance puts them in a media spotlight whose backdrop is full of menace and threat.
Paul Faustino, the world-weary sports journalist, watches events unfold with an unpleasant tickle of foreboding running up his spine. And as if he doesn't have enough woe to chronicle, he's also becoming involved in the fate of a young street boy, Bush, whose sister needs protection.
And I loved it. Every single word, every single page.
It's a complicated novel with several subplots, each as involving as the other. Peet writes about football more convincingly than any other children's writer - and although the game itself takes a back seat in Exposure, the passages in it remind me as much as ever of Norman Mailer's wonderful commentary on Muhammed Ali, The Fight. There's such an intimacy to them. Thematically, the book adds more flesh to Peet's imaginary country by dealing with racism, homelessness, and the cult of celebrity, and all the while that awful inevitability in classical tragedy creates an atmosphere of dread.
I'm making it sound terribly complicated, and when I come to think about Exposure it is terribly complicated. But it's completely accessible, reads like a dream, and I couldn't put it down.
People often say of good children's books that "even an adult could enjoy them" with an element of surprise. It drives me up the wall. The best children's books - this one, for instance! - are better on every level than just about any genre book intended for adults. Many are important works of fiction. They push boundaries, they experiment with language, they create unforgettable characters. Some of them - this one, for instance! - link back to the oldest of stories and the greatest of tellers. Mal Peet takes Shakespeare, David Almond takes William Blake, Melvin Burgess renews the Volsung Saga. In large part, the only real difference between them and the year's Booker candidates is nothing more than a bit of streamlining.
As adults, we need to stop expressing surprise when a book intended for children - teenagers, young adults, call them what you will - stretches, delights and entertains us. We need to recognise that a child reading such a book - this one, for instance! - is making more connections and having more possibilities opened to it than any grown up reading just about anything from the adult fiction's best selling shelves.
More, Mr Peet, please.
My thanks to the nice people at Walker for sending the book.
Sara's Face by Melvin Burgess also deals with celebrity culture and is a spectacularly unnerving read. It's echoed in Black Rabbit Summer by Kevin Brooks. The awful inevitability of classical tragedy comes through similarly in The Knife That Killed Me by Anthony McGowan.
Exposure by Mal Peet is in the Top Ten Teen Books That Adults Should Read.
Exposure by Mal Peet is in the Guardian Children's Fiction Prize 2009.
Exposure by Mal Peet is in the Booktrust Teenage Prize 2009.
You can read more book reviews or buy Exposure by Mal Peet at Amazon.co.uk Amazon currently charges £2.99 for standard delivery for orders under £20, over which delivery is free.
You can read more book reviews or buy Exposure by Mal Peet at Amazon.com.
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