17 April, 2012

Submarine by Joe Dunthorne - an exercise in comedy

'Nuance is something that happens at A-Level'. 'Submarine', a cult, indie, niche, non-mainstream classic gained alot more cult, indie, niche, non-mainstream fans when the film, written by that IT crowd bloke, was released in 2010. The book, published in 2008, was the debut of Joe Dunthorne, and I finally got round to reading it this week. I am not exaggerating when I say that this is the funniest book I have ever read, and has one of the most original voices in recent fiction. It is a masterpiece.

The book follows Oliver Tate, a bizarre and truly 'unique' fifteen year old, negotiating his way through his parent's marital problems, his own sexual awakening and the torment that is teenagerdom. Each chapter begins with a new, rarely-used word, as Oliver makes his way through life, making sense of the world through talking about it in new and unique ways.

What sets this book apart from others of this type is firstly its audience, which is not 'young adult', but quite literally anybody above the age of fifteen. Also, the consistency in tone and style is second to none - Dunthorne has one of the most natural comic prose styles of any writer I have read - and since the book is not, in itself, a vehicle for one-liners or just a 'comedy book' this is no mean feat. Dunthorne manages to include humour in a way that is natural to the text, surprising to the reader, and as intrinsic to Oliver's voice as the plot itself.

A sample of Oliver's lucid imagination:

'I've learnt more about human nature from watching ITV's weekday morning chat shows than she has in her whole life. I tell her: 'you are unwilling to address the vacuum in your interpersonal experiences,' but she does not listen'

And another:

'I'm surprised he can manage it but Fred makes the sound again - a caterwaul.
I think that at least Fred is dying with an obscure word.'

I could list the jokes that Dunthorne writes, but they make little sense outside the unique, whimsical and comic tone of the novel. The book says a lot about modern teenage life, more so than anything 'literary' or 'teenage', and manages to be laugh-out-loud funny on every page - let me tell you, the skill of writing comedy in fictional prose is a hard ask. The book perfectly captures the existence of a pretentious and ambitious youth in a small-town setting. How else can I recommend the novel? I don't know - there aren't enough superlatives going, and I don't know enough niche words.

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