Friday, 24 January 2014

My Thoughts on: Submarine by Joe Dunthorne


(I tried to find a word for 'hello' in Welsh, but I couldn't find it... damn you Google Translate...)

The reason I wanted to find a Welsh greeting is that it links to the first ever review in my cosy corner of the internet. Grab another cup of tea (it's like caffeine addicts anonymous here, trust me) and snuggle up in a onsie (if that's your kinda thing) and I'll try and put as little spoilers in as possible. Enjoy!

Meet Oliver Tate, fifteen years old. Convinced that his father is depressed ('Depression comes in bouts. Like boxing. Dad is in the blue corner') and his mother is having an affair with her capoeira teacher ('a hippy looking twonk'), he embarks on a hilariously misguided campaign to bring the family back together. Meanwhile, he is also trying to lose his virginity - before he turns sixteen - to his pyromaniac girlfriend Jordana. Will Oliver succeed in either aim? Submerge yourself in Submarine and find out...   

*holds breath* 

What immediately struck me about this book was the strong, likeable narrator in the form of Oliver, especially the way Dunthorne has portrayed him. The story starts with a him and a group of friends bullying a girl named Zoe: I admired the brave angle the writer decided to take, but Olvier's slightly dark, yet innocent nature already had me sold. He's definitely not your average Joe, definitely not the sort of normal teenager you would expect come across in your local high school, but Dunthorne's ability to mould to a unique and often hilarious voice made Oliver all the more vivid. As I reader I was drawn right into his world, crazy words and all. People reading this who know my opinions on realistic fiction will probably be calling me a hypocrite now (If you want any further explanation please click here: but for once I don't care. Oliver worked a certain charm on me. Maybe I liked him more because the plot was more 'normal', and he had an increasingly original take on situations. But more on that later.

The second thing that struck me was Oliver and Jordana's relationship. Jordana was probably my favourite character in the entire book, not including Oli. Some of the time she isn't fair on the poor boy. Sarcastic, blunt and crippled with eczema, she's an opinionated pyromaniac - that's basically how to sum her up in ten words. They're the perfect example of a dysfunctional couple. Without wanting to spoil it, as with any relationship, it's not all a smooth road, but I think each of them gets out of it what they want. It's not sickly sweet or cringe-y in any sense; they're both still children ultimately and Dunthorne's definitely achieved the feel of a first love. Even the 'losing virginity' scene was raw and unfabricated - laugh out loud funny. Their relationship was a win for me.

The setting also struck a chord with me. Although I've visited Wales only once in my life, I found the atmosphere surrounding the scrub land and campsite in particular fascinating, with a vague familiarity. It reminded me of a much more realistic and relatable British version of the creek in Looking for Alaska. The description, even though it wasn't dense, made me feel like I was breathing Swansea air.

In amongst his quest with Jordana, Oliver’s overall motivation in Sumbmarine is to figure out just what’s going on with his parents. He monitors their ‘intimacy’ by the dimmer switch in their bedroom, checks his mum isn’t pregnant by the amount of tampons in her wardrobe, and keeps an eye on his Dad’s tendency to record all TV programmes instead of watch them live. I thoroughly enjoyed his mini ventures, including running away to investigate his mum’s friend Graham, who he suspects she’s having an affair with.

There were some moments however, especially in the aforementioned scene, which made me go ‘really?!’ but I don’t think these worsened my reading experience;  I finished it in a matter of days. Additionally, sometimes the snippets of diary format I got spoon fed I felt were slightly overused and unoriginal, but I didn’t mind. It wasn’t a moany teenage girl yearning for a boyfriend. It was Oliver’s endearing nature spread across every page and tipping every word.

In summary: a raw yet hilarious coming-of-age story, with ‘rough round the edges’ characters and some lines that will stay with you long after you've turned the final page. A must read for all YA enthusiasts. Four stars.  


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