Tfitoby's Reviews > Submarine

Submarine by Joe Dunthorne
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May 30, 2012

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bookshelves: lit
Read from May 30 to June 02, 2012

Maybe it's just me but doesn't everything get compared to The Catcher in the Rye? A modern day version, a version crossed with Godzilla, Holden Caulfield on speed, best thing since sliced Salinger? I choose to discount these comparisons for three reasons: hyperbole, im always disappointed and most importantly, I distinctly remember finally reading it and wondering what all the fuss was about.

Joe Dunthorne's debut novel about teenage angst, alienation and rebellion in Swansea in the late 1990's was inevitably compared to said adventures of Master Caulfield and once more I find myself wondering what all the fuss is about.

There are moments of great levity interspersed with others of great gravity, both handled well considering this is a book that features a teenage boy inadvertantly trying to put his fist inside a virgin in a theatre sound booth and same boy writing awkward teenage love letters to his mother from his father in an attempt to get them to "turn the dimmer switch down" on their bedroom light.

It's quite a charming novel of coming to terms with yourself and your parents and sadly those themes and the age of the protagonist means this does limp in to the dreaded young adult category of literature. Whilst Catcher has become known as a book for teens it was intended for adults and as such deals with things beyond the school yard as it investigates it's issues of identity and alienation, Subamrine gets bogged down in the minutiae of bodily fluids, obvious attempts at making Oliver a modern day picaro but forgetting to make him sympathetic in any way at all. At its heart this is immaturity masquerading as mature, a wolf dressed in the sheeps clothing of a large dictionary, thesaurus and encyclopedia set, perfectly mirroring its protagonist.

I must be honest and admit that I only had an interest in reading this because of the fantastic movie adaptation. It's such a charming, funny and interesting movie and I was intrigued as to whether the novel was the source for this or the film maker Richard Ayoade. The answer was a little from column A and a lot from column B. The adaptation made this novel better, it added a magical quality missing from (OK maybe it was slightly hinted at) Dunthornes prose, made the story of Oliver Tate more cohesive and most importantly adding layers of sympathy to the supporting characters in the life of this neurotic, self obsessed, teenage boy and even Oliver himself.

See the movie, for once book not essential.
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