Five Boxes: A Review


I don’t know about you, but in my mind there is no conversation piece in this world more dull than one’s own child. The way they are trotted out, “Oh look he can walk”, “He’s so funny when he’s disrupting large groups of people trying to have a quiet night”. But more than this is the incessant story-telling, every tiny aspect of their life apparently worthy of a Tolstoy-esque novelisation, as if I hadn’t already seen the story and the iPhone pictures plastered around various types of electronic media that day.

Perhaps it is for this reason that when I tell people about this book I read, Five Boxes, and they ask me what it’s about, I am not met with immediate excitement. “Well you see he found some boxes from his childhood and he goes through them and talks about what everything is…” Oh, they say. I immediately realise my mistake and correct their misapprehension, “No it’s very good, it’s by the same guy as ‘A Year Down the Drain’, the one about walking his dog by the creek for a year”.

Over this year I have become a much more accomplished Mark MacLean evangelist, and I would be surprised if you could find a friend of mine who hadn’t heard about the book at least once, and I feel almost sorry for those who spent time with me during the time that I was actually reading it, but the Gospel of Mark is not an easy message to share, because a simple description of the book doesn’t quite cut it. I saw an article online a few months ago entitled “Your Favourite Fairy Tales in One Line”, with all the big ones:

“Girl gets lost on way to Grandmothers house and heroically saves Grandmother from wild animals”

“Girl lives with hardworking dwarves in the woods until someone more attractive comes along”

“Picky girl learns her lesson after attempting to steal from bears.”

Just from these one liners you can probably guess which fairy tale each is, but how to describe Five Boxes in a line? You can’t do it. Trust me I’ve tried, and it is because this book (to borrow the phrase), is far more than the sum of it’s parts. The basis of this story is ostensibly five boxes of old stuff, but in reality it’s a journey through time, a memoir that is funny, thoughtful and engrossing, all while feeling completely genuine.

So I have come to the conclusion that I cannot tell you what it’s about, I can’t describe it’s stories and I most definitely cannot make you understand the writing, (although I do wish I could emulate it), because you have no basis for comparison, there is nothing like it and only when you have finished reading it will you understand just how sad that fact is.

Do yourself a favour, and pick up a copy of Five Boxes today, just make sure you’ve got nothing important on tomorrow, because you won’t want to put it down.

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One Response to Five Boxes: A Review

  1. Mark MacLean says:

    After a slightly anxious reading of the first paragraph I settled more securely into the review! Thanks for that, Ben. If you think it’s hard trying to describe try writing a blurb or, even harder, a subtitle. As you can see from the cover, I gave up!

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