Bibliophiliac is the space where one passionate, voracious reader reflects on books and the reading life. You will find reviews, analysis, links, and reflections on poetry and prose both in and out of the mainstream.

A book must be the axe for the frozen sea within us. Franz Kafka

Sunday, May 4, 2014

Review: Casebook

Mona Simpson
hardcover, 336 pages
a review copy of this book was provided through TLC Book Tours

I adored this book. Casebook is one of my favorite books of the year, and I've read some really good books this year.

The story is told by Miles Adler-Hart, who is nine years old when his parents begin to show signs of marital strain, and when Miles begins to spy on them. I mean, really, really spy.

It all starts because Miles wants his mother, a mathematician, to agree to let him watch Survivor. Miles starts out with a walkie-talkie taped to the bottom of his mother's bed, and ends up with tapped telephones and more. Miles and his friend Hector (who is a little in love with Miles's mother) even make a trip to the Spy Store, eventually.

There's a little of Harriet the Spy, and more than a little of The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes here.

The Holmes references are more than a little pointed: Miles's mother is named Irene Adler. That is the one woman Sherlock Holmes admires: his prized possession is a photograph of the only woman who managed to trick the famous detective.
To Sherlock Holmes she is always the woman.
              from "A Scandal in Bohemia" by Arthur Conan Doyle 

Of course in the family romance, there is the woman for every boy, and for Miles it is Irene. As his parents separate and then divorce, Miles tries to piece things together in his childish way. He always ends up knowing so much more than he wants to. When a new man enters Irene's life (a guy previously known as "the dork," Irene's running partner) Miles isn't sure what to make of the guy. Should he trust him? Is he in love with Irene? Will they all be a new family. Firs Hector, and then Miles, start to have questions about Eli J. Lee, who lives in Washington, D.C. and drifts in and out of Irene's life. Hector and Miles investigate Eli, and when their skills don't get them far, they contact a professional.

Casebook takes place over a period of years, and as the story builds, the characters start to work their way into the reader's heart. I wasn't sure what to make of this fractured family, and the little boy spies seemed to take things too far. But as the story progressed, I fell in love with everyone: Miles, Hector, Irene and her circle of friends, and Miles's sisters (he calls them the Boops). Boops One and Boops Two (presumably two Baby "oops"?). The snooping turns more serious as Eli's motives and explanations seem more and more questionable. As Miles says of himself "I was a snoop, but a peculiar kind. I only discovered what I most didn't want to know.

There is a little of everything in Casebook: Freudian psychology, references to Sherlock Holmes, and excerpts from the comic book that Hector and Miles write together. This book was the exact book I needed to read on the day when I read it--and I did read this book in one day, starting in the early morning and not stopping until I finished the last page. In the end it was a book about love, and I found it surprisingly, unexpectedly moving and profound. I loved that most of all: the way this book caught me off guard with its beauty and its depth. Without giving away any more of the plot, which is filled with delicious twists and surprises, I'll just urge everyone to read Casebook, and hope you love it as much as I did.

Mona Simpson has a website at monasimpson.com


bermudaonion said...

Miles sounds like a terrific character and this sounds like a terrific book!

Laurel-Rain Snow said...

I enjoyed this one more as time went by...there were some moments that I wanted to say "enough, already" to the boys...but then their discoveries turned out to be quite astute.

I liked how they ended up writing comic books and turning their creativity into something positive for them.

guiltlessreader said...

Wow, didn't know about the Irene Adler reference! That makes this book so much more cooler!

Heather J @ TLC Book Tours said...

I love it when a book surprises me like this is such an amazing way.

Thanks for being a part of the tour! I'm featuring your review on TLC's Facebook page today.