Right from the beginning it captured my attention. The other characters were introduced a bit later and they were a treat. I especially liked that the author tackled the tough subject of a mental disorder. This is a tough topic and I wish there were more stories like this available.
This is a great book to make the reader think and reflect.
The author of this novel explores the reactions to a character, Charles, who has a psychiatric condition (a mental disorder unspecified in the book), by a number of people, including relatives (his brother and sister-in-law), close friends and acquaintances, complete strangers and previous employers. Charles’s diagnosis is left intentionally vague (we can speculate, based on the description of his behaviours, but that is not the point of the story. Charles’s behaviour is peculiar and bizarre at times, but he does not appear to be a danger to others and most of the time remains capable of making his own decisions and explaining himself, although not always) probably to avoid the temptation of turning the book into an apologia or a treatise to defend the sufferers of a particular illness or disorder. It is not about one set of symptoms or even one character, but it reflects back to us some of the standard reactions to people who might be affected by such a disorder. Are they really unable to do a day’s work, or is it all an excuse? Are they telling the truth or are they making up stories to get attention? Why should they be treated differently and given special privileges when they aren’t pulling their weight? Are they just exploiting the system? Should they just be locked up?
The novel is written in the third person, at times by an omniscient narrator that shares the internal thoughts of some of the many characters, at times the third person narrator simply shares what is happening, without taking any specific point of view, but rather that of an objective observer. That contrast allows us to get a better understanding of the psychological make-up and reasons behind some of the characters’ reactions, and we can compare those reactions to the facts.
Although we never get to see things from Charles’s perspective, we hear the stories of his friends (some closer than other) who are gathered, at the beginning of the book, to help him and accompany him on the occasion of his mother’s funeral. There are a number of works of fiction where a funeral brings people together to discuss the deceased, and in the process discover the true selves of those in attendance, although here, there is less discussion of Rose, the mother, and more of Charles. And also of the rest of the guests. We get to learn about them, their relationships (or lack of them), their sexuality, their weaknesses, their beliefs and interests, mostly through their conversations. All the characters have interesting backgrounds, lives and stories, and we become as curious about them as they are about each other. And we want to learn more. There is plenty of dialogue and not much description or narration. It struck me that this book would make a great play with many juicy parts for talented actors and actresses.
When we get to know both his friends and those who aren’t that close to Charles, we come to understand that all of them (and by extension, also us) have their own conditions, and we shouldn’t be so quick to judge. Even the most enlightened of us can have prejudices and misjudge others if we are not open and refuse to take them on their own terms.
Conditions has a fascinating array of characters and is a book that will make all readers think. I believe there is or will be a second part that will follow some of the characters’ stories. I’m looking forward to it. This is the second book I’ve read by this writer and I’m happy that he has so many books available and of varied styles and genres. I’ll keep reading him, enjoying his stories and watching his career.
Many reviewers have commented on the contribution this book makes to understanding mental health which indeed it does. Instead of repeating those comments I will add the author has got right to the heart of family relations that have gone wrong, the grudges that fester for years and the assumptions people make to prove their prejudiced position.
The conversations and attitudes between Charles’ house guests reflect so much about real friendships and cover a vast range of relationship issues and attitudes.
Great writing, dialogue and characterisation make this a fabulous book with universal appeal.
Luckily, there are writers who won’t let us off the hook so easily. I have followed Christoph Fischer’s writing for some time now, so I am already a fan. But with Conditions, he truly challenged me. It wasn’t a question of IF I would like it, but what did it bring out in me.
Granted, not much seems to happen on the surface. The fascination with the story are the subtleties about the interactions between Charles’s diverse friends, all with their own quirks, their own problems, but most importantly their own support of a friend who tries as best he can with a “condition.”
The writing, while subtle, brings out intense conflicts among them. The book, like life itself, doesn’t end in a neat package. Instead, to me, it made me wrangle with the one overwhelming condition that wove Charles’s friends together: Empathy.
It made me wonder: Would I have it in me to be such a supportive friend to someone with a “condition”? I am ashamed to admit: I am not sure. The question haunts me. Christoph Fischer achieved his goal; he made me think real hard about “Conditions.”
The cast of characters in this story are all very realistic. Their traits, selfishness, love, likeability and un-likability, shine from the pages. When a patriarch or matriarch dies, sometimes hidden jealousy, bitterness, and resentment floods out and families can and do fall apart. I was heavily invested in this story. I was not engrossed in the novel at the beginning, when mother dies, and the first few chapters cruised at a steady pace. sculpturing the characters, but I found myself being drawn into the story, as it progressed, and the characters became more sculptured. This is what I love about Mr Fischer’s writing. His stories are addictive, and at times I feel as though I am watching a family saga, TV series with the same visual sensation.
I highly recommend author Christoph Fischer, in fact, I’m off to read another of his books now.
Then there are stories like ‘Conditions’. This book is simply about family in all its diversity and how the death of a mother brings together people bound by birth and family ties but burdened by prejudgment and misunderstanding.
The story centres around Charles and his brother Tony as they come together for their mother’s funeral. Tony is full of bitterness and resentment at what he perceives as his unfair ‘lot’ growing up in a household where one child was ‘normal’ and the other suffered from mental illness. I could empathise with that, parents must go through this dilemma all the time when one child has special needs be it physical or mental.
But times move on and Tony is still burdened by his perceptions whilst Charles has found some kind of freedom in his condition.
I have personal experience of mental illness with a family member and it can be hard not to feel resentment and a weariness at the sacrifices inevitably made. I could not condone Tony’s attitudes but I could understand them.
Into the story the author introduces a smattering of interesting peripheral characters (family members and friends) all with their own opinions and flaws. Even with the boundaries of time and space set by the author it made for a very diverse and ultimately satisfying read.
It’s the two brothers, Tony and Charles who are integral to the story and they stand out.
My favorite is, Elaine. Her wisdom and psychic readings were great.
At times, I wanted to punch Tony for being a wuss for not standing up to his greedy wife’s mother (which I felt sorry for…at first) and for being a dick to his brother.
I love the different personalities and I see a little bit of myself in all, except for the douches, Ruth, Clare and Anna.
Tony has so many issues with his brother that it only seems as if Richard can help. Tony seems to feel more comfortable with him and him “thinking” he’s an alpha male, he would listen to a man before a woman.
I enjoyed each character, some I hated and some I loved. I was intrigued the whole way through.
When Charles and Tony’s mother dies the estranged brothers must struggle to pick up the pieces, particularly so given that one of them is mentally challenged and the other bitter about his place within the family.
The conflict is drawn out over materialistic issues, but there are other underlying problems which go to the heart of what it means to be part of a family which, in one way or another. has cast one aside.
Prejudice, misconceptions and the human condition in all forms feature in this contemporary drama revolving around a group of people who attend the subsequent funeral at the British South Coast.
Meet flamboyant gardener Charles, loner Simon, selfless psychic Elaine, narcissistic body-builder Edgar, Martha and her version of unconditional love and many others as they try to deal with the event and its aftermath.
On Amazon: http://smarturl.it/CONDITIONSCFF
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