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Book Reviews

Pacific Book Review

Title: The Special and The Ordinary
Author: David Clapham
Publisher: iUniverse
ISBN: 978-1491778487
Pages: 244
Genres: Fiction / Literary
Reviewed by: Lisa Brown-Gilbert
Rating: 4 Star Review

David Clapham’s authentic and insightful narrative, The Special and The Ordinary whets the literary curiosity of readers with the story of cultivated, British friends John Haworth and Martin Holford and their individual journeys through life as they evolved into adults.

This coming of age tale, follows childhood friends, John and Martin from their youth to adulthood as they grow up in the industrial city of Porterfield, Britain during the post World War II eras of the 1950s and 1960s. Similarly, the two friends experience a fairly comfortable adolescence seeded with possibilities. Each young man hailed from a decent home environment, had educated, well connected families and both fostered individual skills that could take them far in life. However, that is where the similarities between the boys ended. The boys were opposites, when it came to personalities and the way in which they perceived themselves in life, which made all the more difference in them by the time they reached adulthood.

John’s “ordinary” persona is shy, intelligent, musically disposed, and exudes a serious approach to establishing himself as a musician in the world of classical music culture. But, on the other end of the spectrum is Martin, whose “special” persona is charismatic,

intelligent, precocious and exudes a lax approach to his path in life, as he changes career directions several times. While John works diligently to become rooted in the world as a classical musician, Martin easily flits, from being an evangelist to a faith healer to the legal field and finally to politics. Although the two young men found themselves on very different roads in life, the two would always find their paths somehow intersecting time and again.

Wholly, I found The Special and The Ordinary to be a respectable literary read. What makes this book worth reading is not that the story moves at a breakneck pace, or hosts an intriguing mystery or posits evil lurking in the dark. Instead, it is the winning combination of intelligent context, intriguing characters and the author’s eloquent writing style all of which, thoughtfully presents the many elements of the human condition as they occur within the lives of the characters. What I also enjoyed was the fine job that author David Clapham did with the incorporation of fascinating snippets of British
History and detailed gazes into the world of the classical musician and culture. Definitely a worthwhile read, I recommend The Special and The Ordinary to lovers of literary fiction.


Clarion Review

Beautiful passages of this novel reflect the emotional impact of music upon young people’s dreams.

David Clapham’s The Special and the Ordinary tells the story of two friends as their lives unfold from the 1950s to the present day, exploring the depths of true friendship as well as what it means to achieve your dreams. John is a quiet and careful boy who comes into the world with a passion for music. Martin is a clever, slick talking boy whose quick wit and charisma manage to get him out of trouble. Together these two schoolboys form a friendship that continues even after they leave their quiet town. While Martin manages to talk his way into various opportunities, John discovers that his musical talent doesn’t quite match his immense love for the art. Martin needs to find true satisfaction in a world that lets him get by on his cheeky charms, and John must come to terms with the fact that he will never be the great artist he dreamed of. Together and separately, the boys grow and mature as they find their way through the worlds of love, music, politics, religion, and work.

The novel manages to cover more than five decades in 236 pages by creating a series of brief vignettes that take place throughout the protagonists’ lives. At times, The Special and the Ordinary feels more like a collection of short stories than a single story, but the vignettes are interwoven with characters who reappear throughout the boys’ lives.

The writing is clear and refreshing, with clean sentences that move the story along at a brisk pace. Though the novel is not necessarily comedic, its wry prose captures the humor of daily life. Much of the plot is driven by dialogue between characters who all speak in their own distinct voices.

The eye-catching cover design uses simple elements on a black background. The front cover emphasizes the role that music has in the book, and the summary on the back cover is exceedingly thorough. Internal formatting is clean and as easy to read as the appealing prose itself.

John’s attempts to break into the music world fill the story with beautiful passages on the emotional impact that music has upon us, and scenes from the music industry. This lovely coming-of-age story addresses a central theme for many: How do we find satisfaction in our lives? The Special and the Ordinary will immediately stand out to readers who love music.

CONSTANCE AUGUSTA A. ZABER


Kirkus Review

Clapham’s (Odd Socks, 2013) novel chronicles the very different paths of two young schoolboys growing up in 1950s England.

John Haworth and Martin Holford are two unlikely friends who forge a bond at their primary school in Porterfield, “an industrial city halfway up England.” John is a quiet, gifted musician, while Martin is an unbelievably bright, witty young man with pluck. The novel traces their lives from their first primary school years to grammar school, university, and beyond. John stumbles into a successful musical career by meeting Daphne Lagrange, a celebrated pianist who, through various connections, is able to get him gigs as a music critic, amanuensis, and accompanist. Martin takes a more public route on his path to adulthood, enjoying stints as a performative clergyman and “faith healer” and a recruiter for the local Northern Coal Board Symphony Orchestra. Throughout the novel, Clapham ties in the stories of other colorful figures in John’s and Martin’s lives. He adds complexity with people such as Katherine Clements, an ailing music star whom John accompanies on tour; Tamas Mihaly, a Hungarian conductor whom Martin recruits for the orchestra; and Wesley Johnson, an up-and-coming composer from the West Indies whom John encounters in Oxford. Ultimately, although the overall plot of this deliberately paced novel isn’t very compelling, Clapham’s portrait of a friendship between the two unlikely protagonists, which lasts through decades and various stages of life, is heartwarming and uplifting. Also, through various characters’ tales, the author makes a poignant statement about the subjectivity of success: even if one isn’t in the limelight, one may still make a considerable impact in the arts—and on the world.

A slow-paced but often charming and enjoyable book about music, friendship, and defining success on one’s own terms.