I have not read many books that have a young child as a narrator and so I have to confess that I was a little sceptical when I discovered the entirety of ‘This Much Huxley Knows’ by Gail Aldwin was narrated from the viewpoint of the seven-year-old protagonist himself. This scepticism, however, was very soon alleviated as I became quickly immersed into the life and world of this little boy as he tries to find his place in it.
Aldwin, through the eyes of Huxley, explores contemporary fears and societal concerns ranging from prejudice and bullying through to political differences and the contentious debate of Brexit. Human desire for conformity and expectations around societal etiquette are foregrounded within the novel, which through the eyes of a child expose them for what they are, merely social constructs that we have to live by. Looking at them closely reveals them, on occasion, to be silly but can more seriously be damaging when we let our prejudices guide us and dictate our actions.
I thought the narrative perspective trying to navigate his way through these ideas stating, ‘It’s not easy knowing what you can and what you can’t’ was really effective. It made me as an adult reader reflect on how we talk to and treat the young people in our lives. Very often we might try and speak half-truths, or worse, whisper just outside their hearing or usher them away perhaps under the misguided illusion that they wouldn’t understand, or we know what is best for them and how they might actually feel about this was an interesting idea to contemplate. During one confrontation with his parents Huxley knowingly states, ‘The way they’re talking about me is nice but Dad’s eyebrows are flat’ suggesting that children intuitively pick up the truth or understand more than we give them credit for.
Huxley himself is frequently frustrated with his parents and adults telling him what he needs to do. He is also hurt when faced with conflict that he does not quite grasp stating poignantly, ‘I wish they would talk to send the quiet away. It’s not nice when mum and dad don’t speak.’ The simplicity of this insightful observation along with the juxtaposition of the, perhaps arguably, immaturely behaving parents works to be incredibly impactful.
This impact also extended to exploration and interpretation of the world through the lens of a child. Huxley observes that, ‘Ribs are like wings in the wrong place. They should be on your back to help you fly’. Moments like this that captures a child’s quick acceptance of others and their desire for interaction was something that I felt was particularly well portrayed. It asks you as the reader to reflect on how you see the world and presses you to consider alternative viewpoints. It is a tale about withholding judgement and promoting understanding. A touching read.