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by Joe Dunthorne

4*


Raised in a commune, Kate chooses to rebel by running away to suburbia. Her younger brother, Albert, feeling rejected, feeling lost, rebels in truly bloodthirsty fashion. Like submarine, Dunthorne’s magnificent début, this is a story about teenagers growing up and trying to distance themselves from their parents.

It’s not a particularly original theme and in less capable hands, would doubtless have been peopled with stereotypical, cliché characters, clumsy comedy and predictable situations, but Joe Dunthorne has such a light touch with his perfectly drawn characters, everything seems so real, you sometimes almost forget that you’re reading a novel. Everything about the commune – the permaculture garden, the solar showers, the local attitudes, the ever-present smell of compost – seemed spot on, totally believable. In Kate’s suburban heaven, too, you could feel the deep carpets, smell the over-heated air and Ambi Pur (I feel Liz would favour ‘Desert Flower’). Patrick was perfect, an absolute joy. I think I’ve rarely read a better-crafted character than Albert, and hasn’t everyone, at some time, known a Don?

It lost a star for me around the last quarter of the book – everything after the start of the rave – when the story seemed to lose focus, the narrative’s energies scattered, everything speeded up, events condensed and the story lost that slow, dreaming quality, obsessed with minutiae, that made the earlier chapters such a delight. I understand why, that everything was building to this point, the day when all the swelling boils burst; it was a dramatic climax to be sure, but I don’t think Wild Abandon needed one, it was doing just fine as it was, it didn’t need the crash and burn. If this novel had been thirty pages longer, travelled at a consistent speed then petered down slowly to a gentle stop, it would have made a much more satisfying end to an otherwise flawless novel.

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