The One in a Million Boy is dead.
This book is not about him, it’s about the people he left behind, the empty space he left in people’s lives, and how they struggle to move and change to fill the void where he used to be.
This book is about Belle, his grieving mother.
It’s about Quinn, his estranged father.
And it’s about Ona Vitkus, the one hundred and four year old woman who the boy was helping out at the weekends immediately prior to his death.
There’s a technique in art – or at least, I think there is, not being an artist, I only know what I know through secondary sources – where instead of painting or drawing the object you focus on the negative space around the object.
The negative space technique is used a lot in optical illusions, noticeably in Rubin’s vase (ok, I’ve googled a bit here), where if the space around the vase is concentrated on, the image actually becomes a picture, not of a vase, but two profiles in silhouette staring at each other.
That’s what happens here. Instead of a story about the boy, this is a story about the negative space he left behind.
By the characters talking about it, the impact it’s had on themselves, we get a picture of them instead.
The book is quite twee in places, there are no shocking twists, everything skips along at a merry pace, and there are no major traumas – even the death of the little boy doesn’t cause major upset to the reader, because it’s hard to care about him.
The negative space technique distances him from the reader. We never know his name and a large part of when he is around are the transcripts of his interviews with Ona, in which he is silent, so that they just read as a list of responses to imagined questions.
What should be the emotional heart of this book, the untimely death of a young boy, doesn’t ever quite land. And I think that’s probably intentional.
It’s a nice book, a romp, and the characters are quite lovely, so that the end of the book, which just hints at what was to come, raises a smile. It’s a gentle, inoffensive story, which is at times funny and distracts from the real world.
I’m finding it difficult to convey my thoughts on this book, and fear I’m coming across negative.
It’s a bit like a bowl of Angel Delight. It’s tasty, it’s fun, but it’s not that substantial and it won’t fill you up.