Friday, January 27, 2012

Flip by Martyn Bedford

When Alex wakes on a Saturday morning, everything seems different. His mom is calling for him to hurry, but she sounds odd. And why does he need to get ready for school when it's the weekend? The last thing he remembers from the night before is leaving his best friend's house and running through the street. Now Alex feels very unusual. His mom calls again.

"Philip! It's five to eight!"

Author Martyn Bedford poses an unusual question in his novel Flip: What would you do if you woke up as someone else? Despite the improbable chance of this ever happening, it is a query that I often asked myself when I was younger.

No doubt this was fueled even more by viewings of Being John Malkovich, in which people pay to enter the head of the enigmatic actor. But while that film played the scenario for dark comedy, Bedford manages to really ponder the realities of dealing with such a problem down to the last detail.

If you suddenly inhabited another person's body, would you try and pass as him and assume his identity? Perhaps you might run away and start a whole new life for yourself. I think, more often than not, a person would be truly incapable of escaping his previous life and settle into his old ways.

Alex, as Philip, is an athletic, popular ladies' man with a reputation for focusing on sports more than studies. It's a far cry from Alex's true identity as an asthmatic, chess-playing clarinetist. Philip, or Flip as everyone calls him, lives on the other side of England, far from Alex's former home in London. It's a new family, a new school--it's even a new year. Six months after the night he walked home.

How could this possibly happen? Alex has a few clues. Both he and the boy he's occupying have the same birthday and they were delivered in the same hospital.

When Alex discovers that his old body is in that hospital on life support, he realizes that there may be a possible chance to get back. But how can he escape when everyone around him is taking note of just how differently he's acting? He went out and bought a clarinet. Instead of listening to Flip's gangsta rap-filled iPod, Alex has gone out and (re)purchased some of his favorite albums by The Killers. He's even ditched the two beautiful girls who are fighting over him for a more intellectual girl who describes herself thus: "I'm so far off your radar I'm not even on the radar of the people on the outer reaches of your radar."

Flip is a satisfying mystery that delivers on its promising premise. It's also a distinctly British book, with lots of slang and references to towns that aren't familiar to readers here. Still, it manages to get the point across and speeds us to a chillingly climatic ending in the hospital room where Alex's body lies. What happens? You'll have to get in Flip's head to find out!

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