It's no secret that I have a paper fetish; I collect notebooks and journals. Writing on them is another matter. I've never been a fan of keeping a journal. I find it tedious. I'd much rather sit in a quiet corner and make mental notes of all the things that happened on that day. The character in Ironmonger's novel though feels differently. Max Ponder, a moneyed eccentric, chooses to become a recluse to write everything that he remembers up till the time he turned 21.
This monumental project, which Ponder labeled as 'The Catalogue', was supposed to last for just a few years. However, it has gone on for more than 30 years. Max, now 50, lies dead from a brain tumor and it's up to his best friend of several years, Adam Last, to do the finishing touches to the project: to remove Max's brain and place it in liquid nitrogen. Why? Max wants Adam to preserve his brain so that scientists can study it and possibly unlock the secrets of memory.
The Notable Brain of Maximilian Ponder is basically a novel about friendship. Alan first meets Max in Africa, when they were living in the continent with their parents as expats. Since then, we see these two in their boarding school in Africa, their brief separation in college, and their eventual reuniting for The Catalogue, wherein Max hires Alan to help him complete it. This of course entails Alan to serve as steward-slash-manservant-slash-companion to Max. Max has decided to shut himself away from the world, to prevent him from forming new memories.
Ironmonger's debut fiction is quite funny, especially when you read the banter between Max and Alan. Max appears to be the idealist, complementing perfectly with Alan's grounded nature. And Ironmonger writes very distinct voices for Max and Alan. I'm sure the reader would be able to relate to any one of these two British gentlemen. I really identified with the character of Alan. His commitment to the peculiarities of his friend and his fulfillment of his promise are quite touching.
I do hope that this debut isn't a fluke. The Notable Brain of Maximilian Ponder received several nominations this year and last, including ones from Costa and the Guardian. It's a work huge on promise and identifies the writer as a talent to watch out for. I'll definitely be keeping my eyes peeled for his next work.
Read this book if:
- Your memory is very photographic.
- You have a best friend who always has your back.
- You love reading about two proper English gentlemen.