The Adulterants – Joe Dunthorne (Book Review)

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The cover caught my eye when looking for new books to read – the author’s name was familiar too.

Ray is not a bad guy. Sure, he’s just cheated on his heavily pregnant wife. He secretly despises all of his friends. His career as a freelance tech journalist is dismal, and he can’t afford any of the hovels that pass for a first-time buyer’s house, and he spends his afternoons churning out listicles in his pants. But Ray is about to learn that no matter how low you sink, things can always get worse…

Brace yourself for a wickedly funny look at modernity from the comic genius behind Submarine. The Adulterants is a tale of sadistic estate agents and catastrophic open marriages, dysfunctional friendships and internet trolls, underwhelming panic on the streets of London, and one very immature man finally learning to grow up.

The novel is set in London where Ray, a freelance journalist, is living with his heavily pregnant wife, Garthene, a nurse. Ray almost cheats on his wife early on, and the novel follows the couple, alongside their close friends, living in tumultuous relationships in modern Britain.

Minor crimes, heavy paranoia, and public drunkenness, they are, for 30-something year olds, imaging the prolonged adolescence beyond biological boundaries which is common in the British culture today.

The novel is written in quite a comedic way, with clever turns of phrase and very funny character descriptions which don’t go beyond what all of us can understand and recognise.

The book touches an interesting cultural note, that of adolescence extending well into the 20s – the Peter Pan culture. We have now people “adulting” at 25, rather than just accepting that they are an adult. Why we want to prolong our youthful label beyond biological (or sensible) barriers, I do not know – perhaps we don’t want the responsibilities that come with adulthood, but just want to have fun. Either way the novel shows an immature in the characters which is altogether believable.

The novel also touches on parenthood and the learning to care for another life, albeit briefly. The characters finish off with having some way to go, but perhaps an inkling of change can be detected in the final part.

Dunthorne is a very talented writer, and the book is a pleasure to read.

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The End We Start From – Megan Hunter (Book Review)

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A book recommend by a bookseller friend of mine, under the guise of “give it a go, I’m not sure, see what you think”:

In the midst of a mysterious environmental crisis, as London is submerged below flood waters, a woman gives birth to her first child, Z. Days later, the family are forced to leave their home in search of safety. As they move from place to place, shelter to shelter, their journey traces both fear and wonder as Z’s small fists grasp at the things he sees, as he grows and stretches, thriving and content against all the odds.

The book follows a small, new family evacuating London due to a freak flood, putting even their top floor flat under water. As they, along with many other cities, flee to higher ground in search of refuge, they develop and learn quickly how to deal with their new found parenthood in a desperate world.

Through the travels, challenges are met with dwindling food reserves and the turning of people on one another. Friends are met and made too; companions to suffer alongside.

The book focuses largely though on the relationship between the narrator and her newborn son, Z. All characters are referred to only by letters through the book: R, O, G, N etc. but I felt that this detracted little from the comprehension (though I know it has bothered some). Why just letters? I couldn’t claim to know. Perhaps the identification of the individuals, couple with the un-named narrator,  hints at the lack of need for personifying the individuals, but focus on their relationships instead – community and family above individuality. I don’t know.

Perhaps it’s because I’ve not face the trials and blessings of motherhood (rather difficult as a man) or the unique connection between child and the mother that bore him, but I couldn’t always sympathise entirely with the narrator’s feelings.

Ultimately I guess Z represents new beginning at the end of London as it currently is- taking baby-steps out onto the ruined landscape.

An interesting book, and I appreciate (as I’ve mentioned before) authors who are willing to take a risk in giving a unique writing style. I’d be interested to read more by the author…