The Book That Made Me: Philip Reeve 16/10/19
My Brother Simple
Kleber is 17 years old and at sixth form college in Paris. He’s trying to secure himself a place in a shared flat, but things are complicated by the fact that he is bringing his elder brother who has learning difficulties.
Barnaby (known as ‘Simple’) is 22. While their self-interested father wants to return Simple to a gloomy institution by the name of Malicroix, Kleber is determined to try to provide his brother with the life he feels he deserves, despite the challenges both will face on the journey towards independence. So the book sees them move into a chaotic student flat, home to drunken revelry, tension and sexual jealousy. Some members of this lively community prove more welcoming than others but all will find their lives changed by the arrival of the brothers.
My Brother Simple is much more than the standard ‘coming of age’ tale. It also sees a community compelled to rethink its preconceptions about learning disability. We quickly see that all the characters in the book are flawed to their own varying degrees, and all have much to learn from Simple. Why? Because he sees things differently from everyone else, swiftly stripping away the pride and superficiality behind which characters take refuge. What Simple does so effectively is to ‘tell it like it is.’ The overriding message is that sometimes life’s most testing insecurities and preoccupying of troubles can be resolved surprisingly easily with a bit of Simple-style honesty and logic.
Some of the terminology may grate (such as terms like 'mute', 'handicapped' and 'spaz') and readers may feel uncomfortable with the description of Simple as having a ‘mental age of three’. However these reservations about language aside, readers are sure to be won over by the engaging charm of Simple.
Note: this book contains some adult themes.