Title: The Special and The Ordinary
Author: David Clapham
Publisher: iUniverse
ISBN: 978-1491778487
Pages: 244
Genres: Fiction / Literary

Reviewed by: Lisa Brown-Gilbert

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Pacific Book Review

David Clapham’s authentic and insightful narrative, The Special and The Ordinary whets the literary curiosity of readers with the story of cultivated, British friends John Haworth and Martin Holford and their individual journeys through life as they evolved into adults.

This coming of age tale, follows childhood friends, John and Martin from their youth to adulthood as they grow up in the industrial city of Porterfield, Britain during the post World War II eras of the 1950s and 1960s. Similarly, the two friends experience a fairly comfortable adolescence seeded with possibilities. Each young man hailed from a decent home environment, had educated, well connected families and both fostered individual skills that could take them far in life. However, that is where the similarities between the boys ended. The boys were opposites, when it came to personalities and the way in which they perceived themselves in life, which made all the more difference in them by the time they reached adulthood.

John’s “ordinary” persona is shy, intelligent, musically disposed, and exudes a serious approach to establishing himself as a musician in the world of classical music culture. But, on the other end of the spectrum is Martin, whose “special” persona is charismatic, intelligent, precocious and exudes a lax approach to his path in life, as he changes career directions several times. While John works diligently to become rooted in the world as a classical musician, Martin easily flits, from being an evangelist to a faith healer to the legal field and finally to politics. Although the two young men found themselves on very different roads in life, the two would always find their paths somehow intersecting time and again.

Wholly, I found The Special and The Ordinary to be a respectable literary read. What makes this book worth reading is not that the story moves at a breakneck pace, or hosts an intriguing mystery or posits evil lurking in the dark. Instead, it is the winning combination of intelligent context, intriguing characters and the author’s eloquent writing style all of which, thoughtfully presents the many elements of the human condition as they occur within the lives of the characters. What I also enjoyed was the fine job that author David Clapham did with the incorporation of fascinating snippets of British History and detailed gazes into the world of the classical musician and culture. Definitely a worthwhile read, I recommend The Special and The Ordinary to lovers of literary fiction.

John Haworth, despite innate shyness, has floated upward in a comfortable English home environment under the influence of much older sisters and their friends. After he begins a new school in the early fifties, the seven-year-old is looking lost when a classmate, Martin Holford, decides to take him under his wing. And so begins a long friendship.

Ordinary rules of life apparently do not apply to the confident Martin except, perhaps, when he allows his mischievous humor excessive free rein against the self-important. While on separate coming-of-age journeys, Martin and John get on fine, despite John’s occasional resentment about Martin’s ability to bounce back after perpetrating ‘wrong notes’ against the wealthy while John slaves away attempting to make new music sound modern. John, who has no desire to be to be an apathetic musician like his viola teacher, unfortunately lacks the talent, personality, and love of limelight to match his glamorous piano teacher or Katherine, the singer he accompanies on the piano. Now all he has to do is somehow find his place amid an uncertain career as a ghost composer where chances come as infrequent as success.

The Special and the Ordinary shares the unique story of two young people as they come of age and step into the future, each with a different idea on what it means to be true to themselves.

David Clapham was born in Sheffield and studied botany at Oxford. After working at the Welsh Plant Breeding Station in Aberystwyth, Wales, he moved to Uppsala in 1973 where he still resides today. David and his Swedish wife Lena have two children.