I’m often asked to recommend books for blokes.
While I hesitate to divide literature into shades of pink and blue, I’m going to put my neck out here and say I think there is a difference in the way men and women experience books. I could probably draw an intersection pie chart with a crossover middle bit (there is a big chunk that belongs to women alone and a smaller chunk for hard-core boys – and I don’t mean that in top-shelf kind of way, I mean car chases and adventures and explosions).
I belong to a bloke’s book club, which is very different to the all women clubs I have belonged to where we talk about the symbolism and the metaphors and the lovely writing. The boys are a bit more nuts and bolts and they want the ideas without particularly worrying about the package.
Paulo Cognetti doesn’t wow with fancy writing here. This is sparse prose, cleanly cut, cool and clear as the mountains (oops – a simile, cut it out!) It’s the coming of age story of a nice Italian boy called Peitro who gets irritated by his father and doesn’t seem able to find a way back to him, which is very sad but so very real, I thought.
He also loses his childhood friend during adolescence, a local peasant boy from the village where Peitro’s family holiday so his father can climb the mountains. But he finds Bruno again and they climb over a few obstacles into an adult friendship and the kind of kinship that escaped Pietro with his dad.
Pietro’s father goes uphill and his son chooses the path of less obsession, as most teenagers would, down in the village and then out in the world. But he is his father’s son and later in life his mountain backdrop is the Himalayas. It is Bruno who manages to meet Peitro’s father on his own terms, you can’t blame the old man for welcoming the company of the substitute son.
What a lot father and son would have had to talk about together if a) they could articulate their feelings and b) they would talk to each other. See why I think this is a bloke’s book? Blokes know this.
Later, Bruno and Peitro together build the Italian mountain equivalent of a man cave but they take turns in their isolation, the lonely setting begetting lonely lives. You know it can’t go any other way. Don’t go there blokes, go back down to the village, don’t lose your community. Reach out. Arrgggh. Blokes!
No car chases or explosions, but plenty of adventures up mountains and into the soul.