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Census by Jesse Ball

Census by Jesse Ball
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In this “curious, clever novel”, a father and his son, who has Down’s syndrome, travel from town A to town Z in an unnamed country, administering a national census, said Brian Martin in The Spectator. The father, who is dying, is a retired doctor with a passion for cormorants; his wife, who predeceased him, was a clown. The novel, the foreword tells us, was inspired by the life of Jesse Ball’s brother, who had Down’s syndrome and died in 1998. It is written in a style that’s “devoid of adjectives”, and while this is annoying at times, Census is for the most part engaging and “humane”.

This is a strange and “transformative” book, said Melissa Harrison in the Financial Times. The secret of its power lies in Ball’s depiction of the son. Rather than a “fully fleshed character”, he is portrayed entirely through the “world’s reactions to him, from the most tender to the most cruel”. This forces readers to “fill in the missing information” themselves – after which it does not feel possible to return to a “state of ignorance”. Stark, spare and parable-like, Census is “memorable and utterly profound”.