John Boyne is one of my favourite contemporary authors and I know I’m biased from the outset, but he has been that good to get me there. JB is very astute, with a deep understanding of plot, themes, characters and relationships, so from the beginning when you encounter awful characters – no, I mean horrible characters, and really unbelievable scenarios, I’m wondering how many levels are we exploring in this contemporary world of social media addiction, political correctness outrage, gender identification, fake news, viral and continuous media influence, and the vigilant ‘woke’ culture. So let’s throw a wealthy and famous dysfunctional family into the mix and see what happens. What we get is a satirical story that confronts all those contemporary scenarios with very witty and humorous consequences to an array of dislikeable characters. The Echo Chamber reference is likely that nonstop social media infrastructure where a comment or transgression reverberates forever.
“Social media gives legions of idiots the right to speak when they once only spoke at a bar after a glass of wine, without harming the community. Then they were quickly silenced, but now they have the same right to speak as a Nobel Prize winner. It’s the invasion of the idiots.”
The family in question are the Cleverleys, George is the father, his wife Beverley (yes Beverley Cleverley), their sons Nelson and Achilles, and their daughter Elizabeth. George is a TV personality deemed a national treasure. He is having an affair with a therapist, Angela, who is now pregnant and he’s not sure how to deal with this news. George is over sixty and has that way of being politically incorrect without awareness, or possibly he no longer knows how to hide his sexism or racism.
Beverley is a famous best-selling author who appeared on Strictly Come Dancing and is having an affair with her Ukrainian dance partner Pylyp. As an author, she hires a ghostwriter to write her books with very little guidance on the plot or characters while she is preoccupied chasing Pylyp across Europe while he has an obvious sex addiction – having sex with anything that moves, including her children.
Nelson has psychological problems with women and dresses up in police or doctor outfits to feel more important, so he sees a therapist and his new one is – you guessed it, Angela. Elizabeth is my vote for the most dislikeable person but she’s the social media assassin, obsessed with gaining followers, posting outrageous and seriously damaging tweets. Her father is a target of her assault and she destroys his reputation after critically commenting and retweeting a post he made. The consequences and how George deals with it keep mounting to an epic conclusion. Achilles is remorseless as he scams and bribes people after his little ‘sting’ games and moves from girl to girl with abandon until he meets his fate.
As a Buddy read with Ceecee and Beata, we struggled to connect with the genuinely dislikeable characters and we almost had a game to determine who we hated most. Thanks to my buddies for joining me on this book as their discussion was priceless.
I think this book is going to divide opinion and while it has a lot of clever and witty dialogue, it seems to be so incessant on negative events, and people, that we lose the contrast in the narrative. I commend JB for taking on these issues as he is no stranger to tackling institutional abuse and social misconduct. I would recommend this book and I would like to thank Doubleday, Random House UK and NetGalley for providing me with a free ARC copy in return for an honest review.