Saturday, August 31, 2013

REVIEW: OSTRICH by Matt Greene

Title: Ostrich
Author: Matt Greene
Publisher: Ballantine Books
Publication Date: August 27, 2013
Genre: Satire
Reviewed by: Margitte
Source: NetGalley
Margitte’s rating: 5/5


This is Alex’s story. But he doesn’t know exactly what it’s about yet, so you probably shouldn’t either.
Instead, here are some things that it’s sort of about (but not really):
It’s sort of (but not really) about brain surgery.
It’s sort of (but not really) about a hamster named Jaws 2 (after the original Jaws (who died), not the movie Jaws 2).
It’s sort of (but actually quite a lot) about Alex’s parents.
It’s sort of (but not really) about feeling ostrichized (which is a better word for excluded (because ostriches can’t fly so they often feel left out)).
It’s sort of (but not really (but actually, the more you think about it, kind of a lot)) about empathy (which is like sympathy only better), and also love and trust and fate and time and quantum mechanics and friendship and exams and growing up.
And it’s also sort of about courage. Because sometimes it actually takes quite a lot of it to bury your head in the sand.


My husband has a way of ordering steak: "Make it rare to have it still embarrassed, but make sure the vet cannot save it anymore"

So I immediately connected to the story when I read in the prologue that Alex's dad ordered his steak "Cooked long enough that his family aren't in denial but not long enough that they're at acceptance. Anywhere between bargaining and depression. Just so long as it's seen the inside of a warm room."

This observation of Alex will actually become the embedded truth in the narrative.

Apart from that I also felt the connection with an ostrich. "I already know what it's like to feel ostrichized, which is a better word for excluded (because ostriches can't fly, so they often feel left out).

We farmed with them for many years, having between 3000 to 4000 of them hanging around in the breeding season. The huge 'chick rooms' where all the hatched chickens were cared for the first two months of their lives, were in a huge barn - the only place on a remote African farm with underfloor heating! We humans, battling winter out, had to settle for old wrought-iron stoves or bonfires burning in a sheltered spot to keep warm.

So with all this in mind I was wondering why a young Brit would associate himself with an ostrich and what did he really know about them. Of course it peeked my interest in this book.

It was soon clear that Alex's epistemological view on life, on everything, would have me in stitches, even at five in the morning with the first cup of coffee in hand. His scientific approach to pornography had my laughter sound like a 1948-Fordson tractor with locked bearings - combustion inhibited by gaseous protests! 

Talking about gas.
"I attribute Mum's insomnia to her concerns about The State of Her Marriage. It can be helpful to use the word state when describing a marriage because it makes you think of the people involved as particles. Right now Mum and Dad's marriage is a gas."

I am sure he would have made Einstein proud as well (not only P.G.Wodehouse & Co).

"How does it happen that a properly endowed natural scientist comes to concern himself with epistemology? Is there not some more valuable work to be done in his specialty? That's what I hear many of my colleagues ask, and I sense it from many more. But I cannot share this sentiment. When I think about the ablest students whom I have encountered in my teaching — that is, those who distinguish themselves by their independence of judgment and not just their quick-wittedness — I can affirm that they had a vigorous interest in epistemology. They happily began discussions about the goals and methods of science, and they showed unequivocally, through tenacious defense of their views, that the subject seemed important to them."

The wit and humor influences of P.G.Wodehouse, Woody Allen and alike is evident everywhere in this tragicomedy. 

With everything the courageous young Alex went through, he never lost his sense of reason and his urge to dissect even the minced meat in his school lunch with a paint brush he borrowed from the Art department! 

Mr. Sinclair: "Try and imagine your brain as an orchestra." 
( I try, but it's difficult, because my brain is already a circuit board, a dog kennel, a water park, and a hostage negotiation.)"

The ostrich analogy: although they cannot fly, have feathers and lay eggs, the ostrich doesn't know he is a bird. He doesn't look up in the sky and cry seeing other birds overhead, because he has never been there himself. He has legs - long, strong, and fast, making him the most dangerous bird on earth! And believe me, the ostrich is very proud of that fact! Alex might have felt left behind, due to his condition, but the ostrich never did. 

Besides, if this gigantic bird was able to fly, a flock of them landing on a house, would have it crashed. There is a reason why it should not fly, at least in our human reasoning! Alex has all the reasons in the world to just be as proud as an ostrich. He has proven himself and his abilities in enough other ways than flying.

And so did Einstein. Fatally compromised? I think not. Not at all. And Einstein was also ostrichized by an educational system and society which could not accommodate his genius!

Before I venture too deeply into the epistomology about this book I should stop. Laughter can be deadly too, you know! If dissected, it becomes really a scary phenomenon! I'm sure Alex will agree with me!

Those staff members who taught Alex comment that his record of work was consistently good. They spoke to the keen interest and intellectual curiosity that he brought to the classroom. His written work was described as imaginative, fiercely logical, strongly argued, lucid, and unwaveringly grammatical. His command of concepts was confident and advanced."

That is what Alex and this book is all about. A skilfully crafted plot, a masterful tying together of all the detailed elements of the story line. It must have been quite a challenging novel to write. Thought-provoking - YES! Compassionate - YES! 

BRILLIANT first novel. I am a fan forever! 


Ostrich by Matt Greene has 30 reviews on Goodreads. Read it here.



Matt Greene was born in Watford in 1985 and studied English language at the University of Sussex. OSTRICH is his first novel.

Influences include: Kurt Vonnegut, Anne Tyler, Joseph Heller, P.G. Wodehouse, J.D. Salinger, John Swartzwelder, David Foster Wallace, Richard Yates, Ray Galton and Alan Simpson, Lorrie Moore, John Kennedy Toole, and, of course, the Jewish Holy Trinity: Philip Roth, Woody Allen and Larry David.


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