Census by Jesse Ball review – a moving portrayal of radical innocence

A father and his son with Down’s syndrome go on a road trip in this remarkable novel about the nature of empathy

Two very different literary impulses collide in Jesse Ball’s new novel: old-fashioned memoir and modernist fable. One might think they were incompatible, given their allegiances to the separate truths of experience and imagination, but it’s a testament to the skill of this talented writer (on the Granta best young American novelists list in 2017) that they end up enhancing each other in all kinds of unexpected, often remarkable ways.

An opening note states the author’s intention to write about his brother, Abram Ball, who had Down’s syndrome, and whose life (he died aged 24) was “something so tremendous, so full of light, that I thought I must write a book that helps people to see what it is like to know and love a Down’s syndrome boy ...