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An interesting read - but it didn't keep me hooked - House Rules
House Rules - Jodi Picoult
Member Name: malteser1987
House Rules - Jodi Picoult
Advantages: exciting at the end, interesting info about Aspergers
Disadvantages: Too long, frustrating and I hated the character Emma
I received this book as a Christmas gift; I've taken a passing interest in Jodi Picoult (well I've read a few synopsis's of her books and figured they might turn out to be quite interesting!) but this is the first book I've read of hers. It's pretty hefty at 603 pages (maybe not the best one to 'break me in' with!) and tells the story through each of its main characters which gives you a rounded view of the situation as it is perceived by Jacob Hunt - the main character of this book whose interest in forensic science and turning up at crime scenes leads him to a potential murder conviction of his own, as well as his younger brother Theo, his mother Emma and others such as the police officer who brings him in (Rich) and Oliver a rookie lawyer who takes on the case despite being completely out of his depth.
---The Plot (without spoilers - the back of the book says all of this!)---
Jacob Hunt is an 18 year old; he has been diagnosed with Asperger's and though incredibly intelligent, lacks the capacity to relate to others and socially interact. As a result, his mother has centred her world around helping her child to access the world, helping him with a private social skills teacher and by working the world around him to function in a way he can cope with i.e. food is colour coded according to the day of the week, strict routines and a tailored diet and dealing with his meltdowns. His brother Theo feels the crunch of coming second to this and acts out in his own way.
His obsession with forensic science (he sets up crime scenes in his own home!) and the disappearance of his social skills teacher at the time when he was meant to be seeing her starts off a catalogue of events which points the finger at Jacob. Aside from this, lacking social skills and acting in a way which indicates guilt - lack of emotion, eye contact and inappropriate behaviour which can be attributed to his Aspergers, he appears guilty and with a whole world of people who don't understand him, the odds are against him.
I found this book a bit of a slog to get through. I don't have a lot of time to dedicate to reading so it was great that the chapters were small, taken from each characters perspective so I could keep up with what was happening as often, the next characters thoughts and actions will relate to the previous one (which I may have read a night or two ago).
I found this an interesting, informative read. The 'case studies' of murders I found interesting - obviously intended as a branch of Jacob's psyche, but all the same they helped to stir my thoughts on what actually happened and who was guilty. I found it interesting hearing things from different perspectives and thought that this was done well. Most chapters were left on a cliffhanger which another character responded to and especially towards the end of the book, I really wanted to read on.
I had previously read 'The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time' by Mark Haddon which is written solely from the perspective of a boy with autism and how he perceives the world - I found it a real eye opener; to see the world from a different perspective and I enjoyed this single perspective MORE than I did the fragmented one although in order to build tension and suspense, it needed to be broken up between characters. There were so many incidences where the 'truth' nearly came out that I did get a bit frustrated - if I'm in his mind then why doesn't he just say what he saw?! For someone who takes the world literally, I would prefer to know a bit more instead of being taken around the houses but again, that would have destroyed the whole build up of tension and I'm glad in some ways that it was strung out like it was!
The cons for me were the incessant readdressing of Asperger's - the analogies from both Jacob and Emma which occurred frequently. I get it - you cannot break the social barriers. Whilst it was useful at the start to really build a context and understand how dehabillitating Asperger's can be, I felt like everything that was said throughout the novel was done so repeatedly and was then regurgitated through the court proceedings and therefore I had to hear it all again. I found it more interesting having those issues that Jacob is faced with listed then having them drip fed and every character who hasn't met Jacob to then react in a surprised manner. It was just repetitive.
I also found the characters a little...draining. I liked Jacob and I liked Theo. Emma I didn't like - she's meant to write an advice column for a local newspaper as a means of income but the examples of her work that suddenly keep cropping up at the start of her chapters towards the end of the novel (not a pattern that ran through the novel or was welcomed when it did appear) were poor and made her less believable. They were meant to add a touch of humour but I felt that they were trying too hard - and any one who wrote so little and such rubbish would definitely not be employed to contribute to a regular column and get paid for it. There was also a very cheesy line that stuck out to me at the start of the novel - either from Rich or Oliver about how they imagined the woman who wrote the advice column for their local paper to be - fantasying and saying they were attracted to her and the things she said...this was left to die and also seemed very far fetched for a woman who obviously contributes utter tripe to have a profound impact on any one. Then coincidently crops up in their lives almost instantaneously. Too obvious that Picoult was trying to draw tentative links between the characters but this appeared pretty unlikely. I don't think any profound thoughts about Dear Deidre - "Wow. I bet she's a intelligent, stunning woman in real life.". No folks.
Despite my dislike of Emma, I would say overall this is a good book but needs some pace injected. I felt like the storyline progressed at a snails pace because one episode in Jacobs life would then need to be relived through the thoughts of at least 2 others and really the most exciting bit was the last 150 pages and then I was gripped and didn't want to leave the story.
The ending, not so much an anti-climax and seemed a reasonable way to end but something in my heart of hearts saw it coming and I swear it was hinted at by someone involved in the situation but never directly addressed. I felt like it closed in probably the only way it could although having been invested in 150 pages worth of court proceedings, I felt like they robbed me on the end - I wanted to know what would happen in that situation and how it would be dealt with. I wanted to know the expressions of those in the trial and how it came to a close.
I also felt that as a mother, or brother of someone on trial for murder KNOWING that my brother does not have the capacity to lie and can only tell the truth (a fact reiterated a billion times) I would have turned and said "Tell me exactly what happened." I know this would have dramatically shortened the book but considering as a parent you would NEED to know for your own peace of mind, and the weight placed on Jacob's inability to lie, I felt the scenario was really diluted and dragged out when in reality no mother would have ever let this carry on for this long without knowing. Also making a point of saying he answers everything literally led to questions being asked which required rephrasing in order to get more information, which the character avoided doing to leave you with more questions that answer. The character has an inner monologue about what this could mean instead of asking Jacob for details.
Worth a read but needs your full attention - and good humour - to fully appreciate.
Summary: A great read in some-way's but quite chunky and slow paced.