A review by Nalini Haynes
The author of The Rosie Project has done it again: he’s knocked it out of the park with another novel that subverts genres and expectations. The Best of Adam Sharp is a story of middle age, love, lust and finding your way. I want to put it in the Romance genre but I’m not sure it belongs there.
Adam has “made it”: he’s a computer programmer who works on legacy products. He’s so well-paid he only has to work part-time to live a comfortable life. However, underemployment and aimlessness have him a bit lost-in-the-suburbs.
His ex, Angelina, emails him. This brings their romance from 22 years ago and half a world away flooding back, including the music he loves and his desire to perform. Not that it ever really left: Adam always felt Angelina was the one who got away, even though he’s lived with Claire for the past 20 years. And he’s been listening to music and playing but only with headphones on in his study. Depriving Claire of the music she loves is a way of withdrawing from her, possibly even punishing her.
Meanwhile Claire is trying to sell her software company, a deal that may require her to move to America for at least a few years. Adam doesn’t want to move. And he suspects Claire of having an affair.
What follows is an unconventional romance with elements of You’ve Got Mail although what I disliked about You’ve Got Mail was a strength in The Best of Adam Sharp.
Adam is complicated and goes on an intense internal journey similar to many midlife crises although its external manifestation was, I hope, different to most.
Although The Best of Adam Sharp doesn’t pass the literature version of the Bechdel Test, it’s quite feminist. No two women talk to one another without a man present because — surprise, surprise — the book is told from a male perspective. QED. However, some of the women are impressive, with strength of character and agency, although one of the women is co-dependent.
Regarding the Bechdel Test: Graeme Simsion and a few other people took issue with the above paragraph and/or ‘my’ interpretation of the Bechdel Test (requiring a conversation without a man present to pass). In point of fact, Alison Bechdel publicly stated (in front of a packed audience at the Melbourne Town Hall) that SHE thought it was obvious that, to pass the Bechdel Test, the conversation between two women shouldn’t have a man present, both in the context of her comic strip and the example she cited (Alien), where two women talk without a man present. It’s about representation of women as people in their own right, not merely as vassals and chattel for men.
However, if you want to take an already incredibly low standard of representation and drop the bar even lower because you can’t possibly have a rule that excludes men from being present, The Best Of Adam Sharp still does not pass the Bechdel Test. The only conversation between two women without men contributing to that conversation is a brief interlude during a night at the pub with a group of men and women. Adam watches and listens in to a very brief conversation between his partner, Claire, and another woman, which he interprets in the context of his relationship with his partner. Thus, in the context of the novel’s point of view character and internal dialogue, this conversation is about Claire’s relationship with Adam, excluding this conversation from a ‘pass’ in even the lowest interpretation of the Bechdel Test.
The climax — pardon the pun — is sexually explicit and, well, you have to read it. I don’t want to spoil the surprise. And, believe me, it was a surprise. I still feel ambivalent about it.
The music is mostly 60s and 70s although there’s an Easter Egg–style reference to the Doug Anthony All-stars. There may be more Easter Eggs that I didn’t pick up on. I want the soundtrack to the novel! Graeme says that most people who absolutely love the novel connect with the music.
Simsion writes complicated and even unlikeable characters well: he has the capacity to love his characters unconditionally and it shows. The Best of Adam Sharp is a unique novel with twists along the way, leaving me unsure to which genre/s it belongs: romance (maybe yes but it breaks the rules); erotica (it’s explicit during the climactic sex — again with the puns, I just can’t help myself — but there aren’t many sex scenes); chick lit (hell no but women will love it); or general fiction (that’s underselling a great novel). I highly recommend The Best of Adam Sharp to adult audiences.
Talking to Graeme last night (November 30) at the Literary Soiree in the Book Plate Cafe, I realise my review follows the trend of others’ reviews: I start by mentioning The Rosie Project and I compare it to The Best of Adam Sharp, mentioning the music etcetera. It was tempting to re-write this review to confound expectations but WTH, I’m going with it. Just to be contrary. 😀
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
Format: paperback, 384 pages
Publisher: Text Publishing (Australia)