‘Submarine’ by Joe Dunthorne

★★★★★

Spoiler. This book is not about submarines. I have been let down a number of times by books with deceiving titles: To Kill a Mockingbird had nothing about fowl carnage. If you want to learn about Submarines. This is not the book for you. I don’t even know what ‘Submarine’ is a metaphor for. Hiding from society – three miles under water? Societal pressures like the weight of the sea? I just don’t know. Times like this make me miss the days of Animal Farm; a book about an animal farm, The zombie survival guide; a survival guide for zombie plagues, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban; where Harry Potter rendezvous’ with a prisoner of Azkaban. Let me drop a truth bomb on you. Metaphors don’t sell. Which is a real shame because this book is phenomenal. And really. I should have known it wasn’t about submarines. The haughty English schoolboy on the front should have been an indicator. One cannot wear that getup on a submarine. I assume. I am still no submarine expert. Thanks to Joe.

Joe Dunthorne, first time writer, first time genius. I had a friend in university who absolutely raved about this book. I forgot the name until a recent Facebook post of said friend called it back to my attention. Then the stars aligned and QBD had a 50% off sale. It was meant to be.

It was page 14 when I decided that this would be one of those instant five star books. Joe Dunthorne snuck this moment of brilliance halfway through a sentence to bury it, but being the keen treasure hunter that I am, I found it. I halted breath in writerly appreciation. Considered getting it tattooed on me. Thought mum would kill me. Decided against tattoo. Went back to reading. Allow me to share.

“My parents tell me I have a fantastic view, but I don’t believe in scenery.”

Did you get a shiver? Me too. Again. Dunthorne had someone tell him that it was the best line in literature so he put it in again at the end of the book. I feel this is still pretty modest. I would have made it the title. Maybe that’s what ‘Submarine’ is a metaphor for – the absence of scenery. This whole book was filled with tasty little morsels like that. “The grace of a crustacean”, stop it! Oliver’s anti-victim pamphlet that he wrote for the second fattest girl in school was perhaps the best self-help guide I have ever read. It could be published on it’s own.

Oliver Tate is a fifteen year old boy, who in the beginning struggles because he has nothing to struggle about. Nothing is more irritating to a hormonal teenager than everything being okay. At first I thought his lack of emotion and brilliant observational skills made him a candidate for Asperger’s Syndrome. I’m still not convinced he doesn’t have a touch after the whole (SPOILER) dog-poisoning scene. Due to this, Submarine struck me as a mix between The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time and an episode of The Inbetweeners. Oliver is one of the most fascinating characters I have ever read. He is both ignorant and clever, funny and awkward. In real life I would probably smack him in the face. I’m fond of characters as long as they remain 2D. (Unless Jace Herondale comes to life – then shotgun!)

It is always in YA (Young Adult) novels that I learn the most new vocabulary and the most about the human condition – having never been one myself. If you want to get a child into literature – and I mean more than the great Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, this is the book that you should give them. This is the book that they should have given us in high school – so rich with metaphors and death and sexual traumas. What else is there to offer your impressionable children?

Observational humour   √
Extensive vocabulary     √
Classic YA dysfunction   √
Sex scenes                    √
Submarines                   X

★★★★★

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4 thoughts on “‘Submarine’ by Joe Dunthorne

  1. Pingback: ‘The Catcher in the Rye’ by J.D. Salinger | It's Only Three

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