Grace is thirty-five years old, single and unemployed following an unfortunate incident when teaching. She is also an obsessive compulsive who must count everything, to quantify the limits of her world. Because if she can’t quantify it, who knows what might happen? From the hairs on her toothbrush to the poppy seeds on her orange cake, everything must be measured. Then she meets Seamus who is thirty-eight, single and working in the cinema. All of a sudden allowing the numbers to rule her life doesn’t seem so much fun…
I’m not sure whether Addition made much of an impact when it was published in 2008. This may be attributable to really bad marketing. It was listed as a Richard and Judy summer read, but let’s face it, you’d be hard pressed to find a book that hasn’t been. When I picked up the book I thought that it must be a bad romp about dieters (the Quiche and graph paper on the cover were responsible for this). Then I thought it must be a teen romance as the characters were described as Grace (19) and Seamus (19). I don’t mind a bit of teen fiction, so I picked it up in expectation of this. I’m pretty sure that some parents somewhere will have done the same and given it to their thirteen year old, only to be horrified by some of the reasonably explicit erotic scenes later in the novel.
However, this is a blog which revels in going beyond a cover judgement, the book inside is actually a decent read.
Toni Jordan tells the story of an obsessive compulsive with refreshing originality. Instead of being depressed at living on the outside of normal society, Grace lives in it, scorning the ants who wander through their existence waiting for life to happen, not realising that life is what is happening around them while they fail to realise, because they are unable to count and therefore measure the wonder of the universe. She has her flat and a picture of her ideal man, Nikola Tesla, by her bed. Though things have been different in the past, which is occasionally hinted at with some degree of subtlety, she is quite happy and has no intention of changing. The drama and dilemma in the story comes when Seamus, meaning well, encourages her to get treatment for her “disorder”.
I felt that this was an interesting exploration into the nature of obsession and our attitudes towards it. The author forces us to question the extent to which we as society view difference as a condition to be treated, drawing a distinction between people who are largely functional, like Grace, and people who are harmed by their obsessions, like the Germaphobics in the book. This book is a slow, sarcastic round of applause at all the psychiatrists and therapists who try to cure aspects of personality- how far do you go?
Make no mistake, obsessive compulsive disorder is a debilitating condition for many people, and the author acknowledges this. But in an age where many functional, yet admittedly quirky people are labelled with a spectrum of disorders (I saw this all the time in teaching. Shy, rude or uncommunicative? Must be low on the Autistic spectrum. Chatty? Must be ADHD. Bad tempered? Behaviour Emotional Social Disorder…) I think it is healthy to challenge the wisdom which suggests that everybody who is not completely normal, whatever that means, must have something wrong with them.
This is a light-hearted read, but an enjoyable one. It combines some sexy flirtation with scientific thought and philosophical musing on society. If anyone has ever irritated you by questioning your lifestyle choices (You don’t watch Big Brother; you actually enjoy being single, you like children but couldn’t eat a whole one and actually you don’t fancy theirs much) then this is an amusing two finger salute to those who want to turn us all into pop culture clones.