Friday, 6 February 2015

And a Child Will Lead Them

Also available as the title "Idolism"

A little about Marcus Herzig:

Marcus Herzig was born in 1970 and studied Law, English, Educational Science, and Physics, albeit none of them with any tenacity or ambition. After dropping out of university he worked for bank, a utility company, and for Big Oil. He prefers sunsets over sunrises, white wine over red, beer over white wine, and pizza over pasta. His reaction to airplanes passing overhead resembles that of a seven-year-old seeing an ice cream van. Which, he insists, is a good thing.

Burb from Goodreads:

A new Pope, a world in social and political chaos, and a young singer and songwriter who has his unbelief tested as his big mouth accidentally propels him towards global superstardom. These are the ingredients of this thought provoking, tongue-in-cheek debut novel.

Seventeen-year-old Julian Monk never expected to be a famous singer, but when opportunity strikes, he strikes back and throws himself headfirst into that new, exciting world of record deals, TV interviews and screaming fan girls.

His band mates are rather less enthusiastic about that new life they never really asked for. Dealing with their newly acquired fame and fortune is one thing; dealing with Julian is quite another. His sudden and unexpected metamorphosis from the shy and timid creature they have known all their lives into a surprisingly charismatic public speaker and global superstar takes everyone aback, and when Julian sets off on a very public crusade to replace faith and bigotry with reason and compassion, he raises more than just a few eyebrows. He raises hell, and his friends are no longer having any of it.

Meanwhile at the Vatican, a former televangelist is elected Pope. Hell-bent on transforming the Church into a modern, ‘hip’ institution, Pius XIII is giving his PR advisor a headache or two. Intrigued by Julian’s radical way of inspiring some people while antagonizing others – including his own friends – simply by preaching love and understanding, the new pope can’t help but wonder where he heard that storyline before. They say God has a plan for every man, but this man has a plan of his own - and it involves a teenage atheist pop star.

My take on the book:

I hardly know where to start on this story. At first I thought it was a teen coming of age story. The flow and pace of the story worked really well with this assumption: four 17 year olds who are vaguely misfits, playing in a band in their spare time. I thought the story would follow a few small real-life teen adventures, or misadventures, and they’d get into a bit of trouble, then get out of it, learning something along the way. Yadda yadda.

The first sign I had of this book not following my expected path was when the band, through a mis-timed (well-timed?) media revelation, actually became famous. Then rich beyond their wildest dreams. Then had a bigger message to spread.

That’s the general movement of the story, but doesn’t even begin to scratch the surface. The book is way, way more than just a story about a band that finds fame and how the four members, plucked from obscurity, cope with their stellar rise.

The four teens each present their very different points of view. Tummy comes from a deeply religious Catholic family, and has not yet analysed the reason why he calls himself a Catholic. He’s also been bullied all his life for being overweight and a bit of an idiot. Michael is a computer geek, brain the size of a planet, who spends more time with an artificially intelligent programme he created than eating or sleeping. Ginger is the only female in the group, comes from a loving and supportive home, and doesn’t feel she fits in with other kids her age since they are all immature yobs. Julian, the only group member not to have a voice in the book, has the most to say. He writes the lyrics and is the group’s mouthpiece. He creates for himself a worldwide stage on which he can stand and educate the masses.

Mr Herzig is a philosopher, there is no doubt about it. There were passages that I simply didn’t want to end; I became so engrossed in seeing how far the author would follow through with his ideas. I feared that he’d reach a question he couldn’t answer and just leave me hanging, but he never did. He’d considered everything.

I was tricked into reading philosophy, and I loved it. Early on in the book Julian spent a few pages comparing humanity’s evolutionary development with that of a single person, and I was so fascinated by it that I had to go back and read it twice. It had me cocking my head to the side and thinking, “huh – fancy that…” So maybe this theory isn’t new, and maybe I’m late to the party, but I’d certainly never considered it in this way before and it had me enraptured.

Julian is a really interesting character. At 17, he’s much more intelligent than anyone else in the room, of which he is fully aware, making him also insufferably superior. As charismatic as a cult leader, as well-read as a university professor, his thoughts as deeply considered as Descartes', he’s also Don Tillman… which makes him a little bit of a jumble, but he really works. I was over three-quarters of the way through the book before it occurred to me that Julian had been peddling his wares, preaching from his own personal pulpit, as far back as the others had ever known him, but since they hadn’t noticed, the reader hadn’t been allowed to either. This is so clever. All the band’s songs contain religious significance. Who wrote the lyrics? Julian. The other members all mention the reasons they are in the band at one time or another, and all downplay its importance – someplace to hang out, something to do, “I’m just the bass player”, all they’re doing is playing covers of old tunes - and yet I suddenly realised that Julian didn’t see the band in the same way, and that he never had.

And the moment when Michael denied who he was… let’s just say that’s when the scales fell away.