'The best books, reviewed with insight and charm, but without compromise.'
- author Jackie French

Monday 11 July 2011

Review: Go the F**k to Sleep

I must admit, I'm the last one to be sucked in by a 'controversial' book because they're often just an attention-seeking grasp at a slice of the book market pie. I'm also over irreverence for the sake of irreverence - sorry, but it's so passé.

So, I was understandably skeptical about this in-your-face picture book for adults on the interminable joys of getting kids to sleep. Would it be eye-rollingly offensive? Try-hard? Shocking for the sake of being most woefully shocking?

Go the F**k to Sleep may not be everyone's cup of tea, but anyone with a) a sense of humour or b) has ever battled the nighttime woes of tots, will absolutely take their teacup, add a dash of milk, perhaps a slice of lemon, and drink their fill alongside a burgeoning plate of book market pie.

What started out as a facebook joke by author Adam Mansbach on the tribulations of getting his daughter to go to sleep has become one of the most talked about 'children's' books in a long time. After commissioning friend Ricardo Cortés to illustrate, Mansbach sent a PDF (as opposed to traditional galleys) of the book to independent bookstores, and the file went viral.

Hitting No.1 on Amazon's bestseller list seven months before publication and debuting on the New York Times Bestseller List... there's no denying it - whichever way your funny bone swings, there's a possibility this book is not just relying on the linguistic elegance of a pirate to pin down a sale.

So, the question remains - is it good? or is it just hype-driven pap?

Remembering I'm not one to be at all swayed by controversy, I must say, I'm swayed. This book is very good. Not only is it achingly funny (my 75-year-old mother-in-law was in hysterics), what I like about it most is that it's so clearly NOT written from an intent-to-shock perspective. I love it for that.

This book is fundamentally about the sheer frustration and sleep-deprived-insanity of a parent who chose to both lament and make fun of the perils of parenting rather than just moan about it - or worse - stuff it deep deep down into that "where's the gin?!" parental suppression place (oh, how I know that place well).

Go the F**k to Sleep is really well-written. The gentle, lullaby prose that begins each page...

The cats nestle close to their kittens,
The lambs have laid down with the sheep,
You're cozy and warm in your bed, my dear

...are contrasted most hilariously by a major reality check...

Please go the **** to sleep.

And reality it is. Yes, Mansbach knows all the tricks - the need for a drink of water, the one more story, the need to pee, the questions, the can't find my teddybear - the whole shebang. It doesn't fly, though. The narrator of this book is having none of it and is determined to win the nighttime battle... but does he?

Well, what do you think?

Images by Cortés add a classic storybook feel, with whimsical animals, forests, sleeping door mice and smiling kids romping with dozy lion prides or floating down serenely from the sky over gentle farming fields. The one of the kid in a rumpled parent's bed with a tiger, looking at the reader with tired but glued-open eyes is priceless. Oh boy, I know that look.

One thing that surprised me most about Go the F**k to Sleep is the love infused in its pages - sure, there is some verbal profanity, some anger and frustration - but the love is so there, and any parent lamenting the terror of a sleep-free child will not only laugh, relate and totally 'get it', they may also feel an innate sense of relief that while the terror reigns, they are certainly not alone in the world.

Get the book, curl up on the couch and settle in for the nightly battle. If you can't beat 'em, at least you can have a laugh about it.

Title: Go the F**k to Sleep
Author/Illustrator: Adam Mansbach
Publisher: Text Publishing, $17.95 RRP
Publication Date: 11 July 2011
ISBN: 9781921758843
Format: Hard cover
For ages: Adult
Type: Picture Book, Books for Parents