Martin John by Anakana Schofield

“It was a time when people didn’t ask as many questions.
That was the time it was.”

This book will take you to another place: one you don’t often go to or may never have been. Prepare yourself: check out the Index on the first page.


1. Martin John has made mistakes.
2. Check my card.
3. Rain will fall.
4. Harm was done.
5. It put me in the Chair.

Think about the index. What mistakes has Martin John made? What kind of a card does he carry? Is the rain significant? In what way? To Whom was harm done? What is “it”? What happened in the Chair and how did “it” put someone in the Chair?

Wait a few minutes or longer then read the next page and think about the illustration and the words. “What they don’t know: Flashing is a very angry act.”

Then read the flip side of the page:Martin John

“Rain will fall.
Check my card.
I never tasted bread like the bread in Beirut.
I don’t read the fucken Daily Telegraph.”

You can keep going slowly if you aren’t sure that you want to continue. At this point I was completely hooked: I wanted the details. I wanted the answers to all my questions.

The next section with the same illustration and the text “What they know” with a flip side and this text: “Martin John has not been to Beirut. He has only been to London and to visit his Aunty Noanie.” Then, on the next page: “The dentist’s waiting room shaped Martin John’s life. A simple room, nothing to suggest it contained the almighty power it did.”

Why has the author chosen to arrange the text this way? She introduces us to Martin John in bits and pieces you might say. Is his mind full of bits and pieces? Is he perhaps as confused as we are? Is he able to connect the bits and pieces or are they a mystery to him as they are to us so far?

The illustration is a simple diagram representing different railway stations and is directly related to the circuits Martin John refers to …he makes circuits…and he has a particular station that he favours…Euston Station.

There is another voice you will read mostly from Martin John’s perspective:
“Once, early on, in London, Martin John was vague about the time he went to sleep. Mam told him straight: Get a job at night.
Get a job at night or else I’ll come for ya.”

“He has the bike.
She doesn’t want him on public transport.
Don’t go near the buses, they might see you on the buses and don’t go down on the Tube for you could go into a tunnel and never come out.
D’ya hear me Martin John

Thirty or so pages into the book, there is additional information about Martin John’s Mam:
“…she recognizes that there are many mothers out there trying puzzling things out. She will have to be a mother who puzzles. Except she is not the type who puzzles. She prefers to head, bang, to a conclusion. In this case: I was not that mother. I am not that mother. I didn’t raise my son to rob a post office. So what did she raise him to?”,

and a further explanation of the Index:  “The Index tells us there will be five refrains (listed in opening above)…there are also subsidiary refrains…We will do as the Index tells us this time…When will she tell us exactly what they mean? She may not, since the mother may not ever know why he did what he did, or why it was her son and not the woman up the road’s son. There are simply going to be things we won’t know. It’s how it is. As it is in life must it be unto the page. There’s the known and the unknown. In the middle is where we wander and wonder.”

Besides Mam’s directions, “the newspapers will always matter to Martin John.
He won’t be a day without it and it won’t be a day without him.
It mattered before “the difficult time” and it matters today. The stability of it, the regularity, the newspaper women sustain him.

It’s why he calls into Euston on his way to work. Or, first thing every morning, if he’s not working, he’ll cross to the newsagents on Tower Bridge Road…there are photos and headlines and certain words that worry Martin John and he will not buy what worries him…he never buys a newspaper if he notices a headline has petrol in it. Or pervert. He’s not keen on P words.” The first thing he checks is whether any of his letters got through and then he checks the crossword clues…if they’re terrible – determined by reading 3 across and only 2 of the down…then he chooses a different paper. The newspaper determines many things in Martin John’s daily life.”

Every Wednesday at 2:30 pm he catches the train to Hatfield to visit Aunty Noanie : …”he checks the weather before he departs very, very carefully and examines the sky, to help him predict whether rain may fall or if he might need to cancel the visit.”

A difficult book that reads very quickly.  It will not always be easy to understand but then, there is so much we don’t understand. Every word is worth the effort. Highly recommended to those who want to better understand their world.

My favourite quote from the book:

“Martin John would find that suspicious. A man having an erection on the verb to be, and at a question too. He would find that suspicious. He wouldn’t appreciate it in a crossword clue. So you should know that. You should know the things he does and doesn’t appreciate, if we are going to carry on with this. If not – well, hang up now, as the operator would say.
That’s aggressive, but you see this hasn’t been an easy book for any of us.”

Also by this author: Malarky (published in 2012)

Note: Martin John has been shortlisted for the Giller award to be announced in November. Read what the author had to say recently about the writing of Martin John.


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