Submarine, By Joe Dunthorne
Sunday 18 January 2009
Imagine The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole if Martin Amis had written it and you'll get something of the flavour of Joe Dunthorne's debut novel. The hero and narrator is 15-year-old Swansea schoolboy Oliver Tate. He's struggling to keep his parents' marriage together at the same time as embarking on his first sexual relationship with the sexy Jordana, indulging in a bit of spare-time bullying and showing off his vocabulary on every page.
The writing is sharp and witty and there are bravura passages, including one of the best accounts of virginity-loss you're ever likely to read. The novel also has an excellent sense of place: the fine city of Swansea and the lovely Gower peninsula are here in detail. The trouble is that the further you get into the book, the less you believe in Oliver Tate as a character; it's Joe Dunthorne all the way, showing us all his literary tricks and putting in all the clever thoughts he's ever thought. Another trouble is that the overall narrative drive isn't that strong. There are great scenes, but not much stringing them together.
So Submarine is good only in parts, but the good parts are very good.
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