Thursday, January 17, 2013

Addition by Toni Jordan

Grace Lisa Vandenburg counts....everything. Her life is very precisely ordered. She gets out of her single bed at the exact same time of the morning everyday, she always goes to the same cafe, and she always orders the same cake (orange poppyseed) which she always cuts into precisely the same number of pieces. She always buys exactly the same number of chicken breasts, potatoes, bananas when she does her food shopping. She always counts her steps, she has been known to count the number of alfalfa sprouts that she puts on her lunch time sandwich. She always speaks to her mother at precisely the same time each Sunday night follow shortly after by a conversation with her sister.

She is also obsessed with the life story of inventor Nicola Testa, who is famous inventor, most well known for his contribution to the development of electricity.

What we know as a reader fairly early on is that this obsession has affected Grace's degree to such an extent that she doesn't function as a 'normal' person does. She no longer can drive a vehicle or work in her job as a teacher. She has very limited social interactions and those that she does have are in very rigid environs - like the woman in the coffee shop that Grace orders her cake and hot chocolate from every day.

One day, when Grace is at the supermarket, she has a bit of a problem:

My shopping trolley has 2 trays of chicken thighs, fat and glossy, each tray containing 5. A carton of eggs marked as a dozen. (Each week I assure ecstasy-boy or high-pain-threshold-girl, a Kiwi backpacker with seven piercings in each ear, that I have already checked the eggs. This is so they won’t open the carton and notice I have removed 2 and left them in the assorted spices.) Plastic bags containing 100 beans (that’s a pain), 10 carrots, 10 baby potatoes, 10 small onions. 100 grams of salad mix. (I refuse to shop in a supermarket without a digital scale.) 10 little tins of tuna. 10 orange bottles of shampoo. 9 bananas.


Count again.

How the fuck did I get 9 bananas in my trolley?
After a brief panic, Grace comes up with a solution. There is a man behind her who has a solitary banana in his shopping. All she needs is to create a distraction and surreptitiously acquire his banana. She thinks that she has gotten away with it, until he confronts her outside and asks why she stole his banana. This is the first interaction with Seamus Joseph O'Reilly, but he is determined that it is not going to be the last.

After a slow start involving Seamus being stood up while Grace counted the bristles on her toothbrush, a relationship between the two of them develops. The attraction between the two of them is strong, and they make each other laugh, and it doesn't take Seamus long to realise that there is something different about Grace and that part of what makes her interesting is the difference! As for Grace, she soon realises that she forgets to count when Seamus is around.

Seamus is an ordinary man, with an ordinary job, and he knows that Grace is something special to him, but he also wants to see her happy and so the two of them begin to talk about treatments. Seamus was a fantastic leading man to read about. I would be quite happy to find a Seamus myself, but I am not sure I am about to start stealing vegetables from other people's shopping at the supermarket!

While there is a strong romantic element to the book, really it is a story that is all about Grace - about why she is the way she is stemming from a childhood incident, to how she lost her job, her relationships with her family and how her life is affected when she meets a man like Seamus. It is funny and tender, and was so enjoyable to listen to. I have seen this referred to as thinking woman's chick lit, which fits to a degree. It is about Grace's journey so it does have that in common with chick lit, but it also tackles in depth issues in a way that is funny and emotional. The reader shouldn't go into it expecting to read about fashion, shopping, brand names or anything like that.

One of the most interesting aspects of this story was the focus on an unusual example of a mental health issue. Grace knows that the counting rules her life - how can she not? - but she is also determined that she is not like "those crazy handwashers". As she and Seamus talk through her issues and as she starts the treatments, she is looking forward to being normal, whatever that means, but it soon becomes clear that rather than bringing more to her life, she loses herself in the process. It was heartbreaking to read this part of the novel and had me thinking a lot about why it is that the process that she was going on was about making Grace the same as everyone else, rather than modifying the behaviour to enable functionality but still allowing Grace the space to be her unique self.

Without giving too much away, I loved the way that the author was able to end this story in a way that did allow Grace the freedom to be herself.

As I mentioned before, I listened to this on audiobook, mainly because I went to an author event where Toni Jordan was present at a couple of months ago and won a doorprize which was this audiobook. It is the first audiobook that I listened to after completing listening to A Breath of Snow and Ashes by Diana Gabaldon which was 48 (!) CDs long and took me about three months to listen to. It was therefore something of a shock initially to find myself listening not to Scottish and American accents but rather listening to an Australian narrator (Caroline Lee) tell an Australian story, but one with themes that I suspect will be recognised universally. For the most part I liked the narration even though I found the voice kind of girlish, maybe too young. There were a couple of characters that I didn't think worked in terms of the inflections and tones, one of which was the group therapy facilitator (whose name I can't remember right now)

This was the first book that I finished reading/listening to this year, and it was a good place to start my reading year. I am looking forward to reading Toni Jordan's next book, Fall Girl, and really looking forward to reading her latest book which is set again in Melbourne but during World War II!

Rating 4/5


Grace Lisa Vandenburg counts. The letters in her name (19). The steps she takes every morning to the local café (920); the number of poppy seeds on her slice of orange cake, which dictates the number of bites she'll take to finish it. Grace counts everything, because numbers hold the world together. And she needs to keep an eye on how they're doing.

Seamus Joseph O'Reilly (also a 19, with the sexiest hands Grace has ever seen) thinks she might be better off without the counting. If she could hold down a job, say. Or open her kitchen cupboards without conducting an inventory, or make a sandwich containing an unknown number of sprouts. Grace's problem is that Seamus doesn't count.
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  1. This does sound like a rather interesting book with an intimate look at something that we rarely see in the novels of today. It's funny, because there are so many people out there who suffer from OCD, yet it never gets written about in novels. I liked this review a great deal, and will be looking for this one on audio when I can. Thanks for taking the time to expertly disseminate this one. It sounds like a perfect read for me!!

  2. Something really fascinating sounding about this book. I have put it on my wish list at the library. Thanks for sharing it.

  3. This sounds interesting and different. You did a wonderful job at writing the review and made me want to read it even more. Thanks for reviewing this one! It is officially on my TBR pile. I hope to get to it soon.

  4. Excellent review Marg. I enjoyed this title too. You've captured well the depth of this novel

  5. This has been on my must read list for 2 years and I am ashamed I haven't gotten to it yet!

    Shelleyrae @ Book'd Out

  6. I really enjoyed this review because it reminded me how much I enjoyed this terrific book!

  7. I love this book. The Rosie Project is getting major buzz at the moment, and the blurb kind of reminds me of Addition, so I'm looking forward to seeing how it compares.

  8. I found your blog via the AWW website and really enjoyed reading this review. Lisa Hill reviewed Jordan's book Nine Days so well a couple of months ago that I was compelled to go out and buy it. I started it a couple of days ago and have been so gripped by it that I'm nearly finished - it's such a great read, as well as being intellectually stimulating. Now I think I'm going to have to go out and buy Addition too!

  9. I read this one this month too! (In print though). A very moving book.