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Thursday, 26 June 2008
by Joe Dunthorne
Fifteen year old Oliver Tate is the narrator in this first novel by an author who is already known for his poetry. I don’t know why, but I have a sense that he – the author – would be irritated to have his creation compared with Adrian Mole; but that character does provide a useful point of reference. The difference is that, some years on, it’s Oliver’s parents who are of the same generation as Mole, and are just as ineffectual, and filled with the same self-doubt and angst. Not so Oliver, whose patient attempts to nudge them into line comprise one of the many irresistible and perfectly judged threads of comedy.
While Oliver is not scouring the dictionary for obscure words to add to his already outlandish vocabulary, he is cutting a swathe through the life of his staid provincial town, armed with a lethal combination of knowingness and naivety. He is nothing if not candid, and some readers may feel there is too much information on offer in places – particularly in his determined campaign to rid himself of his virginity, “before it becomes legal.” But his shell of adolescent cynicism is never quite opaque enough to hide an attractive character. In the presence of a girlfriend’s parents, he describes himself as “appalled by my inability to seem anything other than pleasant.” I found his teenage preoccupations authentic and sharply funny, and the writing wincingly observant. I’ll be looking out for more from Joe Dunthorne.
reviewed by Christopher Bazalgette