The Battosai talks changes, phobias and Cape Town in Jen Thorpe’s The Peculiars

As the name implies, the book is about a group of misfits who are struggling with success-inhibiting phobias- the main characters have distinct phobias for driving, crime and meeting strangers. In their quest to overcome their fears, the peculiarity of each character connects them to one another, leading to budding relationships along the line.

I like the fact that book is narrated from the point of view of each of the main characters, and that each chapter is named for a different phobia. Another high point for me is the author’s brilliant description of Cape Town- it makes me want to add the city to my growing list of beautiful world cities to visit before I clock the big 3 and 0.

One other thing that stood out for me is that with Ruby, the author makes us see that sometimes, the helper needs some help of his/her own. That’s one thing human beings overlook because we base our conclusions on appearances as we tend to think that people’s lives are perfect when in actual fact, things are usually not what they appear to be.

Of all the numerous themes in the novel, some of which include passion, crime, courage, romance and desperation, fear stands out- Fear of the unknown. Fear of trying. Fear of changes.  Seeing as that particular theme was extensively exploited, it won’t be surprising to learn that the author has/had one or two phobias/fears of her own.

Generally speaking, the book is quite interesting. However, some things did not cut it for me. I’ll list them below:

  1. The book seems a little too institutional for me. It was all about fulfilling the program at the centre, overcoming the phobias and going back to their lives. There was almost no humour. The budding relationships ought to have been explored further.
  1. It seemed like the author was unsure of the particular genre to write about. For me, it is a peculiar cross between a romance, a book of self discovery and a ‘somewhat’ tourist guide for a would-be visitor to Cape Town.
  1. A nagging question came to my mind as I read the book, “In reality, is it possible to overcome an ‘almost’ lifelong phobia in four weeks?”. In my opinion, I doubt it. But then, love conquers all. Doesn’t it?
  1. Going by the title, I half expected the book to be about mutants and superheroes. Considering the plot and the themes in this novel, I feel the title is not suitable as having a phobia doesn’t make a person peculiar. That title would have been more apt for a story inspired by Marvel comics and the Xmen movies.
  1. I have reason to believe that the book will only appeal to a select few- people who know a lot about phobias and/or people who have ‘extreme’ phobias. I was able to relate to the book because I have a few ‘extreme’ phobias of my own’. I recommended the book to a friend and she dropped it without finishing it. Why? Because she had to consult her dictionary for the meanings of many of the phobias. She had never heard of them!

Nevertheless, it is a good book- the tone is easy. The setting is well suited. The characters are well developed. I would rate it five out of ten stars.

Wow! That’s a huge deal, yes?

 

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