Hamish Hamilton £12.99

Wild Abandon, By Joe Dunthorne

With parents like these, who needs gangsters?

Joe Dunthorne recently admitted in an interview that, following the success of his debut, Submarine, he felt compelled to write a second novel that was startlingly different.

Consequently he devoted some time to a fantasy gangster novel that went nowhere, before rejecting it for Wild Abandon, officially his "difficult second novel". While that might have been a tricky process for Dunthorne, we the readers benefit from his decision.

It is easy to understand the pressure that the young author must have felt: Submarine won the Curtis Brown Prize, was shortlisted for the Bollinger Everyman Wodehouse prize for comic literature and was made into a successful film. Pretty much a debut author and his publisher's dream, so hats off to Hamish Hamilton for not rushing out the gangster epic, and for letting Dunthorne do what he is gifted at: warm, insightful comic writing.

Wild Abandon is the story of a failing commune, based on a secluded farm, and the family at its heart. The commune's leader is Don, a man who is not dealing well with the slow disintegration of both the community he has built and his own family. In addition, his children are beginning to display the startling effects of adolescence, and of having been brought up on a commune.

Seventeen-year-old Kate dreams of escape. The frustrations of trying to rebel against parents who are "easy with whatever" are immense. Viscerally repulsed by her little brother and wearied by her mother's determination to be friends with her, she longs for the glamorous pastures of suburbia. Or at least, suburbia as she imagines it from the limited popular culture she has been allowed access to. It is not long before she makes a bid for "freedom".

Meanwhile, 11-year-old Albert busies himself with what he is convinced is the imminent end of the world. His preparations are as elaborate as they are ridiculous. But, while the world doesn't end, the world as he knows it – one where people wear jumpers the colour of margarine and have their showers timed for ecological reasons – soon changes dramatically: Albert's mother Freya finally leaves Don, and Don becomes convinced that holding a rave is the glue that will mend broken relationships.

Despite the commune dwellers' many and varied eccentricities, Wild Abandon never lapses into parody, because Dunthorne doesn't scrimp on the small moments that make a character light up. If ever there were a sentence that captured the grim frustration of waiting for adolescence, it is: "he coveted the smell that vented out from her non-breathable anorak."

Given that it is rather plot-light, there might have been a worry that Dunthorne would try too hard to go for the joke every time. But his humour remains as robust as it is warm, and each character is treated with a delicate combination of respect and hearty ribbing. Don and Albert's ever more fantastical dreams are particularly engaging, and one scene in which Don attempts a disastrous man-to-man relationship chat is truly laugh-out-loud hilarious.

Occupying a terrain that lies between the very British humour of Jonathan Coe and the zeitgeisty ambition of Douglas Coupland, this is a confident follow-up that manages to be both tender and biting. Dunthorne was right to keep to a voice that suits him.

We're still curious about the gangsters, though.

Arts & Entertainment
film

Arts & Entertainment
Don (John Hamm) and Megan (Jessica Paré) Draper are going their separate ways in the final series of ‘Mad Men’
tvReview: The suits are still sharp, but Don Draper has lost his edge
Arts & Entertainment
James Franco and Chris O'Dowd in Of Mice and Men on Broadway
theatre

Review: Of Mice and Men

Arts & Entertainment
art

By opportunistic local hoping to exhibit the work

VIDEO
Arts & Entertainment
Leonardo DiCaprio will star in an adaptation of Michael Punke's thriller 'The Revenant'
film

Fans will be hoping the role finally wins him an Oscar

Arts & Entertainment
Cody and Paul Walker pictured in 2003.
film

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition iPad app?
Arts & Entertainment
Down to earth: Fern Britton presents 'The Big Allotment Challenge'
TV

Arts & Entertainment
The London Mozart Players is the longest-running chamber orchestra in the UK
musicThreatened orchestra plays on, managed by its own members
Arts & Entertainment
Seeing red: James Dean with Sal Mineo in 'Rebel without a Cause'
film

Arts & Entertainment
TV
Arts & Entertainment
Heads up: Andy Scott's The Kelpies in Falkirk
art

What do gigantic horse heads tell us about Falkirk?

Arts & Entertainment
artGraffiti legend posts picture of work – but no one knows where it is
Arts & Entertainment
A close-up of Tom of Finland's new Finnish stamp
art

Finnish Postal Service praises the 'self irony and humour' of the drawings

Arts & Entertainment
Pierce Brosnan as James Bond in 2002's Die Another Day
film

The actor has confessed to his own insecurities

Life & Style
Green fingers: a plot in East London
TV

Allotments are the focus of a new reality show

Arts & Entertainment
Myleene Klass attends the Olivier awards 2014

Oliviers 2014Theatre stars arrive at Britain's most prestigious theatre awards
Arts & Entertainment
Stars of The Book of Mormon by Trey Parker and Matt Stone of South Park

Oliviers 2014Blockbuster picked up Best Musical and Best Actor in a Musical
Arts & Entertainment
Lesley Manville with her Olivier for Best Actress for her role in 'Ghosts'

Oliviers 2014Actress thanked director Richard Eyre for a stunning production
Arts & Entertainment
Rory Kinnear in his Olivier-winning role as Iago in Othello

Oliviers 2014Actor beat Jude Law and Tom Hiddleston to take the award
Arts & Entertainment
Benedict Cumberbatch is best known for this roles in Sherlock and Star Trek
TV

Arts & Entertainment
theatreAll hail the temporary venue that has shaken things up at the National Theatre
Arts & Entertainment
musicShe is candid, comic and coming our way
Arts & Entertainment
booksHer new novel is about people seeking where they belong
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition iPad app?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Ricky Gervais: 'People are waiting for me to fail. If you think it's awful, then just don't watch it'

    Ricky Gervais: 'People are waiting for me to fail'

    As the second series of his divisive sitcom 'Derek' hits screens, the comedian tells James Rampton why he'll never bow to the critics who habitually circle his work
    Mad Men series 7, TV review: The suits are still sharp, but Don Draper has lost his edge

    Mad Men returns for a final fling

    The suits are still sharp, but Don Draper has lost his edge
    Google finds a lift into space will never get off the ground as there is no material strong enough for a cable from Earth into orbit

    Google finds a lift into space will never get off the ground

    Technology giant’s scientists say there is no material strong enough for a cable from Earth into orbit
    Westminster is awash with tales of young men being sexually harassed - but it's far from being just a problem in politics

    Is sexual harassment a fact of gay life?

    Westminster is awash with tales of young men being sexually harassed - but it's far from being just a problem in politics
    Moshi Monster creator Michael Acton Smith: The man behind a British success story

    Moshi Monster creator Michael Acton Smith

    Acton Smith launched a world of virtual creatures who took the real world by storm
    Kim Jong-un's haircut: The Independent heads to Ealing to try out the dictator's do

    Our journalist tries out Kim Jong-un's haircut

    The North Korean embassy in London complained when M&M Hair Academy used Kim Jong-un's image in the window. Curious, Guy Pewsey heads to the hair salon and surrenders to the clippers
    A History of the First World War in 100 moments: A forgotten naval victory in which even Nature played a part

    A History of the First World War in 100 moments

    A forgotten naval victory in which even Nature played a part
    Vespa rides on with launch of Primavera: Iconic Italian scooter still revving up millions of sales

    Vespa rides on with launch of the Primavera

    The Vespa has been a style icon since the 1950s and the release this month of its latest model confirms it has lost little of its lustre
    Record Store Day: Independent music shops can offer a tempting alternative to downloads

    Record Store Day celebrates independent music shops

    This Saturday sees a host of events around the country to champion the sellers of well-grooved wax
    Taunton's policy of putting philosophy at heart of its curriculum is one of secrets of its success

    Education: Secret of Taunton's success

    Taunton School, in Somerset, is one of the country's leading independent schools, says Richard Garner
    10 best smartphones

    10 best smartphones

    With a number of new smartphones on the market, we round up the best around, including some more established models
    Mickey Arthur: Aussie tells ECB to stick with Ashley Giles

    Mickey Arthur: Aussie tells ECB to stick with Ashley Giles

    The former Australia coach on why England must keep to Plan A, about his shock at their collapse Down Under, why he sent players home from India and the agonies of losing his job
    Homelessness: Why is the supported lodgings lifeline under threat?

    Why is the supported lodgings lifeline under threat?

    Zubairi Sentongo swapped poverty in Uganda for homelessness in Britain. But a YMCA scheme connected him with a couple offering warmth and shelter
    A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: When the world’s biggest shed took over Regent’s Park

    A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

    When the world’s biggest shed took over Regent’s Park
    The pain of IVF

    The pain of IVF

    As an Italian woman vows to keep the babies from someone else’s eggs, Julian Baggini ponders how the reality of childbirth is often messier than the natural ideal