Life: An Exploded Diagram

By Mal Peet

A brilliant coming-of-age story set against the backdrop of the Cold War and events leading up to the Cuban Missile Crisis.

Clem Ackroyd lives with his parents and grandmother in a claustrophobic home too small to accommodate their larger-than-life characters in the bleak Norlfolk countryside. Clem's life changes irrevocably when he meets Frankie, the daughter of a wealthy farmer, and experiences first love, in all its pain and glory. The story is told in flashback by Clem when he is living and working in New York City as a designer, and moves from the past of his parents and grandmother to his own teenage years. Not only the threat of explosions, but actual ones as well, feature throughout in this latest novel from one of the finest writers working today.

Categories: Fiction

For readers aged: 14+

  • Publication details:
  • Format: Paperback
  • ISBN: 9781844281008
  • Published: 02 Jun 2011
  • Price: £7.99
  •  
  • Size: 198 x 129 mm
  • Pages: 416

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Customer reviews

Reviews

'How do I admire this breathtakingly intricate novel? Let me count the ways. There’s its beautiful, bittersweet evocation of rural adolescence in 1962, so sensually done that you can almost hear the fizzing hormones. There’s its sheer scope – Google Earth in a novel - as we zoom out from the North Norfolk strawberry fields to land in the testosterone-fuelled tensions of JFK’s cabinet room and the humid jungles of Cuba and the Bay of Pigs. There are its gloriously imagined characters: both the older ones who fold inside themselves the disappointments and deprivations of wartime; and the younger ones, starting to taste freedoms and opportunities of which their parents can scarcely conceive. And there’s the fact that the whole is utterly untainted by blinkering nostalgia. ‘Nostalgics want to cuddle the past like a puppy,’ says Clem. ‘But the past has bloody teeth and bad breath.’ ... its spine-tingling, loin-buzzing, butterflies-in-the-stomach evocation of what it feels like to be young, that extraordinary time of having life, love, sex and the whole oyster of the world in front of you. And so then what a blow it is when you realise that world is also a dangerous one, run by stupid people who might just cause mass destruction to your plans...' Books for Keeps

'From the expansive opening section, which introduces several generations of Clem's family, Peet moves us effortlessly through time. His book jumps in chronology and shifts in scale: one paragraph begins with the ship Granma bound for Cuba carrying Fidel and Che, and ends with Brian Woods throwing Clem's cap on to the back of a passing lorry. And it does so with pin-sharp humour. If you're counting down to an imminent doomsday, you could do worse than to spend a few of your remaining hours reading this.' The Independent

'You know when a book has really got under your skin when you have to remind yourself that no, the characters do not exist in real life, and no, it would not be cool to ring the author and ask whether Clem goes back to Frankie, that in fact you are really only one step away from talking at characters in The Archers like your mum…. But we defy you to read Life: An Exploded Diagram (Walker) and not fall in love...World history and small moments of exquisite tenderness pulled together in an enthralling narrative - Mal Peet is a genius.' http://ladybookbird.tumblr.com/

'Since 2003, Mal Peet has been quietly (too quietly, it might be argued) producing many of the finest books in young adult literature. His excellent historical novel, Tamar, won the 2005 Carnegie medal, while Exposure, a brilliant riff on Othello transposed to the world of South American football, was awarded the 2009 Guardian children's fiction prize. With Life: An Exploded Diagram, Peet has once more produced a winner: a subtle, minutely observed novel with a huge heart and a bold historical sweep. Somehow it all connects, thanks to Peet's cool eye, generous sensibility and fierce intelligence. It doesn't hurt that his storytelling prowess is more than a match for the lust of his young protagonists, the inner workings of JFK's war cabinet, and the gruesome conditions inside a Russian submarine, which "tipped and slewed in the water like a drowned rocking-horse" (and also happens to be carrying an atomic bomb with America's name on it). The question that will undoubtedly be raised in relation to this – and one that has been asked of Peet's work before – is whether it really belongs in the young adult section. From the unpublished writer who told me "If all else fails, I'll write a YA book", to Martin Amis's pronouncement that he'd have to be brain injured to write for children, the slight sneer that follows the category often suggests it's a sub-valid form of literature, OK for those not intelligent or mature enough for real books. Life: An Exploded Diagram is a real book, a rare treat for thoughtful readers of any age. Read it yourself. Then, if you can think of a young person with the wit to appreciate it, pass it along.' The Guardian

'This deftly written book from an award-winning author will provide an engrossing and thought-provoking read for teenagers and adults alike.' Booktrust

'Peet’s novel shines in it’s ‘young adult’ niche but also surpasses it' i newspaper

'Here is a gifted novelist who deserves the widest audience. His autopbiographical account of Clem's school days at his ultra-patriotic grammar school is just one of the pleasures of this irreverent and compassionate novel. Read and enjoy.' The Independent on Sunday

'Surely the finest young adult book of the year…This story has indignation, passion and humour, always expressed with an exhilarating choice of words.' The Sunday Times

'Peet's warmth, humour and fierce intelligence are soaked into every page as he moves effortlessly between first-time fumblings in the strawberry fields of rural Norfolk and the wrangling for power at the heart of the Oval Office. Is it a cliché for a reviewer to label a book unmissable? Tough. Like me you'll probably read it twice, just because you can.' The Scotsman

'The beginning is gripping, the writing flawlessly beautiful and the story fascinating... ...Mal Peet has created one of those rare stories where, while enjoyable throughout, it is impossible to see the true genius of the work until you turn the last page – at which point I defy anyone not to be completely overwhelmed by its brilliance. Falling into neither YA nor adult genres, this is a book that should be read and absorbed by all because, as Peet so cleverly leads us to see, we do not live merely off the world but also in it. As we live our individual lives, the world at large whirls around us in a maelstrom of conflict, dynamism and never ending change and regardless of our awareness, it changes us with it. Do not make the mistake of picking up Life: An Unexploded Diagram and putting it down again – pick it up, stick with it and be blown away, it really is extraordinary.' The Mountains of Interest

'Life is one of those books you can devour in a matter of hours despite its size (at just about 400 pages long it is a bit of a monster). I was totally engrossed and found myself just wanting to read more and more to find out what happened next.' Feeling Fictional

'This is an outstanding book for older teenagers, unpatronising and completely gripping. Mal Peet treats his audience absolutely as adults...Very highly recommended.' http://katymoran.co.uk/book-review-blog/

'You can’t really begin to describe this book (yes, I know I already have). You just need to read it.' Book Witch

'While being a moving Bildungsroman about Clem’s forbidden love for the squire’s daughter, this is also an examination of broader societal changes, and an elegant history of the Cuban Missile Crisis. Peet’s novel ought to win prizes: it will suit any teen with even the slightest interest in history and human nature.' Daily Telegraph

'Peet handles this complex narrative with such confidence and skill that the journey is almost seamless, and the darkness of the subject matter is offset by a dry and clever wit...It’s a book for older and committed teenage readers or adults of any age - quality writing at this level defies an age-range.' The Daily Mail

'Peet handles this complex narrative with such confidence and skill that the journey is almost seamless, and the darkness of the subject matter is offset by a dry and clever wit...It’s a book for older and committed teenage readers or adults of any age - quality writing at this level defies an age-range.' The Daily Mail

'Particularly touching is the progress of Clem's parents' relationship from first love to disappointment, as tortuous and draining as their son's love for Frankie is short and sweet. Life: An Unexploded Diagram has a good chance of next year's Carnegie Medal.' The Guardian Online

'A real book, a rare treat for thoughtful readers of any age. Read it yourself. Then, if you can think of a young person with the wit to appreciate it, pass it along.' Guardian (UK)

'Peet moves us effortlessly through time. His book jumps in chronology and shifts in scale…And it does so with pin-sharp humour. If you’re counting down to an imminent doomsday, you could do worse than to spend a few of your remaining hours reading this.' Independent (UK)

'Here is a gifted novelist who deserves the widest audience….Irreverent and compassionate...Read and enjoy.' Independent (UK)

'...one of the best books I've read for a very long time...There is a map of Norfolk, in very fine detail, printed on the inside of the cover, back and front. You will need a magnifying glass to examine it properly, but these beautiful reproductions are the perfect opening and closing statements for a novel, which, as ever at Walker Books, is a beautifully-designed object and a pleasure to hold in one's hands. I can't recommend it highly enough.' http://normblog.typepad.com/normblog/

'Sometimes hilariously comic, sometimes desperately sad, this totally engrossing novel exhibits ambition and confronts challenge to equally telling effect.' The Irish Times

'For adults, for teenagers, for anyone at al, Life: An Exploded Diagram must be sought out. Concerning the pursuit of virginity loss in 1960s Norfolk against the background of the Cuban missile crisis, it's fresh, vital with an ending tha still stuns, 11 months after I read it.' Guardian

'Set mainly in 1960s rural Norfolk, against the threatening Cuban missile crisis, this novel focuses on the childhood and adolescence of working-class Clem, with fascinating throwbacks to earlier generations of his family' Irish Times

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