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Posts Tagged ‘Mike’

Adventures in Bookland: Mike by Andrew Norriss

Sunday, April 8th, 2018

Long-time readers will know that I am a bit of a fan of Andrew Norriss: you can read my reviews of his previous books here. So I was delighted to receive his new book – or I would have been, if my wife hadn’t grabbed it off me and declared her intention to read it first. Luckily, one feature of his writing is its narrative zip: you pick up the story, intending to read the first chapter, and two hours later you realise you’re past half way and you really rather wouldn’t stop now so, sometime around 3am, you finish the book and promise yourself that you really won’t do that the next time. Only you do. My wife did it first, which at least meant that I didn’t have to wait too long to get my hands on Mike, and then, despite my every resolution, I did it too. So, it’s your fault, Andrew, that I had a sleep-sore head for the next two days!

Andrew Norriss is unusual, possibly unique, among writers in writing dramas of the good. In his books, there are almost always no bad people, just decent folk trying to do what is right. So where’s the story in that? Stories require conflict, right? Well, yes, but conflict can come from conflicting ideas, between good and honourable people, of what actually is the right course, and this is the dramatic seam that Norriss has been mining in his recent books. In Mike, a deceptively simple book, he goes even further in his exploration as to what constitutes the good. The story is straightforward. Floyd, a teenage tennis prodigy, realises that he simply doesn’t want to play tennis any longer. His parents, tennis professionals, want him to succeed at the sport to which he’s devoted most of his young life – but they are not the coaching monsters of news headlines, but decent parents wanting to do what’s best for their son. Floyd, for his part, is desperate not to let down his parents. That is the seed of the story, but from that sprouts surprisingly deep roots, for in his desperation to find a solution to his situation, Floyd meets a friend, Mike. But no one else can see Mike. And Mike isn’t going to let Floyd play tennis any longer, taking increasingly direct action to stop Floyd when he gets on the tennis court. To try to get to the bottom of this, Floyd sees a psychologist (the one character in the book I didn’t like, since he bore far too close a resemblance to the most irritating character in history, Counsellor Deanna Troi in Star Trek: The Next Generation, to whose face of simpering empathy the natural human response is a swift slap).

At this point, I must admit, I was getting a little worried. Mike was beginning to seem like a personification of the sort of ‘be-kind-to-yourself’ self sentimentalisation that bedevils us today: a reification of the self and its desires into a good in and of itself. That advertising slogan, ‘Because you’re worth it,’ sums up the attitude: no, you’re not – and neither am I. Was Mike going to slip into a platitudinous hymn to finding yourself in some nebulous satisfaction of selfish desires?

I should have known better.

Norriss knows his Aristotle far too well to fall into this modern-day trap. Mike is, in fact, an examination of what is good as lived in daily life. As Aristotle said, and Thomas Aquinas amplified, all men act for the good – the evil supervillain announcing his evil masterplan to destroy the world is a fantasy of simplication. Even history’s most notorious monsters acted towards ends they considered good – the evil lay in the ends they had convinced themselves were good. To that end, the good life consists in that which makes each of us most completely what we are: for we are born as sketches, and painted through time to our completion. But in our lives, we can either complete the picture, or deface it. Mike is about the making of the human picture, and the right discernment of that which makes our pictures complete.

All this in a story about tennis and fish.