Joe Dunthorne went to my school - an unattractive concrete comprehensive in Swansea in South Wales. And it is in Swnasea and Port Talbot he has chosen to set his debut novel, Submarine, so of course this is a book with more meaning for me than most. The novel has also been turned into a film directed by comedian Richard Ayoade which is also very good.
The story goes like this: Oliver Tate is 15 years old, fond of using long clever words and emarking on his first love affair with the scaley-skinned, pyromaniac Jordana. At the same time he is monitoring his parents love lives, frightened that they might divorce.
The story is not so much a traditional arch, as something that meanders, full of poetic descriptions and insignificant action embued with deep meanings through Oliver's narration.
You can well believe that Joe Dunthorne wrote this novel on a creative writing course. Some scenes feeling more like lovely exercises in creative writing than instrumental to a neat resolution of Oliver's story. This is perhaps why the novel doesn't end when you think it might.
Overall it is a comic novel, full of amusing descriptions, observations and harshly accurate metaphors. Characters are rounded and complex: Oliver carefully tries to nurture his parent's relationship as if he is more mature than they are. Yet he is blind to the pain he causes to the fat girl he bullies and to Jordana when he fails to support her during her mother's illness. The gap between his wise and scientific analysis of events and the real nievity and lack of emotional maturity he demonstrates provides a lot of the book's humour and also makes the narration a brilliant examination of teenage thinking. Joe Dunthorne obviously remembers what it's like to be a teenage boy.
Oliver's attitude to love is also comic. At times, he acts self-consciously as if he is a character in a romantic novel, weeping in the park and placing flowers along the routes he and Jordana walked. These highly dramatic gestures atre always undercut by details like Jordana's flaking skin or unsexy pijamas. Oliver is not in love really, he is consciously playing at being in love, just as many teenagers do.
I really enjoyed reading Submarine, partly because I could picture every scene taking place in my hometown, and partly because it's very well written. For these reasons I give Submarine a solid 8/10.