Albeson and the Germans by Jan Needle

albesonIt’s a children’s book. Yeah, right. In the same way that Lord of the Flies is a kids book. And that’s a good place to start. With a comparison with Lord of the Flies. It may not strike you straight away that these two books cover much of the same ground but, scrunch your brain up just a little and you’ll realise as I did, that in fact Albeson and the Germans is even more shocking than Lord of the Flies.  Golding gives us his tale of social disintegration and dysfunction at one step removed; you have to believe that all these kids are on a deserted island with no adults around.  By contrast, Albeson is in Portsmouth. A very real Portsmouth. A real kid, with real parents, living a real life.  His experience of society is brutalising and his grip on it all is weak. He is buffeted and bruised by all around him but carries on regardless, because he doesn’t know what else to do.  It’s just life, isn’t it. You just have to live it. As a child you have no control over any of it.

Showing the world from the view of the boy is what gives this story its power. And it’s also proof that even if we are born with a ‘moral compass’ it can be shoved off course by our upbringing and experience. Yet the heartening thing about this story is that through it, and despite everything, Albeson finds his own moral compass (compass is a good word to use here!) He has to take himself out of his environment, out of his ‘culture’ and into another place.  I don’t want to spoil the story but the emergence of the young hero is both structurally clever and reassuringly realistic. Who’d have thought that chips would bring about such change?

There are some really shocking things revealed in this story, especially as regards vandalism – but the point of it is to show the mindset of the child involved – and it does this admirably. If you’ve  ever just dismissed kids as ‘a bad lot’ this will make you think again. It really does give you another perspective on the nature versus nurture debate.

The central point is that Albeson is out of his depth in his own life. I’m sure many of us felt the same as children. And grew up believing the lies and prejudices we were inculcated with at an early age. For Albeson,  the Germans are his nemesis. Fear of them drives him into many a scrape. And beautifully, it is the Germans who actually ‘save’ him and change his life’s course.  I’m not apologising for all the nautical inspired words here because it is when Albeson leaves the shore and sets out on his journey to sea that he ‘finds’ himself.  He has to take himself out of his corrupt society, and stand as an individual on his feet for the first time. Albeit those feet are far off the ground and on a rocking deck.  The symbolism here is underplayed but it’s there.  Albeson’s ‘fall’ is also his rise. He achieves, if not closure, at least a compass bearing for the future.

I loved Albeson. Not just the book, I mean the little boy. I felt for him. I didn’t judge him as much as I judged those around him. I found it hard to deal with his parents. I couldn’t get to grips with his ‘oppo’ Smithy but I empathised with the confused way Albeson related to all those around him. He exhibited a sort of bemused innocence mixed with that childish self-centeredness which makes their motives so impenetrable to him. No one else makes much sense to Albeson. And when you look at it, they actually often don’t make much sense at all! That’s the real triumph of the story, it puts you into the mind of an eleven year old boy, warts and all. It moves you, it shocks you and it offers redemption and hope. And it’s far more ‘real’ than Lord of the Flies. To paraphrase Wilfred Owen: the symbolism is in the story.  I know that Jan Needle really rates Moby Dick as a novel. I’ve never got my head round it. I have a suspicion that Albeson and the Germans may offer an insight into that longer novel and that means I really should go and investigate Moby Dick with my new found understanding and interest in underlying symbolism. If I ever do manage to read Moby Dick it will be thanks to Jan Needle.

If you give this book to a child I think it would be advisable to use the experience as a starting point for some intergenerational communication. By which I mean listening as well as talking. Because this is a book to read not just if you are a child, but if you want to understand a child’s eye view of the world.

You can buy this as an ebook for Kindle


Cally Phillips is a member of the Reading Between the Lines Collective

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About callyphillips

One Response to Albeson and the Germans by Jan Needle

  1. Julia Jones says:

    “Out of his depth in his own life” oh yes, Cally – brilliantly put.

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