Book review – The Echo Chamber by John Boyne
© Steven Boykey Sidley
One of the least reliable descriptions of a book is ‘screamingly funny’. I have launched into many a novel expecting to vocalise mirthfully as per the recommendation, only to find myself perhaps occasionally amused, or at best grinning inwardly, with neither screams or even quiet giggles to be heard.
But first – two things about best-selling author John Boyne. His previous books have not been particularly humourous (and were not intended to be). And, a conflict of interest declared, he once said something awfully nice about one of my previous novels (which he allowed me to use on the cover), and so am extremely well-disposed towards him.
And now I tell you in all sincerity – this book is SCREAMINGLY funny, in the most literal sense. Do not drink tea while reading, it will explode out of your nose if the timing is right. But there is also a health warning which I will come to presently.
The book is centred around a wealthy London family all living in appropriately ostentatious home.
The father is a famous BBC talk show host who has interviewed everyone that matters, but is, er, rather old-fashioned and curmudgeonly in his understanding of the modern mandates of culture.
His wife – a famous mega-selling author of Mills and Boonish novels, now too comfortable to actually write, delegating that task to a series of ghost writers as she pursues inappropriate erotic dalliances on the quiet.
An 18 year-old precocious son, using dating sites and his youthful sex appeal to lure older men into blackmail.
Another 20-something virginal son, with one foot out of the closet and needing to wear various uniforms to fight off crippling insecurity.
And a daughter with a nastily inventive talent for promiscuous trolling, her entire existence fueled by her anonymous and all-important Twitter account @TruthIsASword.
Come-uppance for this entitled lot is of course urgently due and delivered with a sort of gentle but firm finality at the book’s end.
The action is set squarely against the backdrop of Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, and texting, as well as the rise of earnest and thin-skinned social justice warriors and their loud support of various causes – trans rights, gay rights, gender issues, race issues, homeless issues, even the rights of lepers.
And so here is the health warning. If you take these social issues very, very seriously and see no way to make fun of them, do NOT read this book. Because you will shriek and giggle and guffaw and smirk and SCREAM at the silliness of almost everyone involved, and then how will you ever forgive yourself?
For the rest of us – a literary but light (and perhaps occasionally under-nuanced) scream of a book.