Will we please shut up about these books already? Yes, we will. But not before telling you one last time just how much we enjoyed Then We Came to the End by Joshua Ferris and how much we look forward to reading Apples by Richard Milward and Submarine by Joe Dunthorne.
Our enthusiasm was reaffirmed Thursday evening at Bardens Boudoir, where Milward, Dunthorne, and Ferris each read from their debut novels, as part of another brilliant debut, the ongoing London Word Festival. Collected among these three authors are some impressive accolades and glowing reviews. After listening to these readings, we could understand why.
Bright young thing Richard Milward kicked off the event with excerpts from the points of view of his novel’s two main characters, Adam and Eve. Though Milward donned Adam and Eve masks based on artwork from the book jacket, a friendly reminder of which character was speaking, the audience likely needed no such cue. Milward, it’s been noted elsewhere, does the voice of teens, both male and female, so well, you can hardly forget into whose precocious perspective he’s brought you, with tales of overindulgence in drugs and sex (not all of it consensual). You shudder, in fact, and thank God you survived those years.
Whereas, if the excerpt we heard from Joe Dunthorne’s Submarine is any indication, hyperarticulate protagonist Oliver Tate is likely to make you want to laugh. Though you probably wouldn’t want to live in the same house as him. His attempts to interpret his world border on the obsessively anthropological, as he tries to glean insight from the overabundance of information available to him through Google, his dictionary, and talk shows. As a 15-year-old boy, you can bet that his conclusions won’t always be dead-on, even if Dunthorne’s grasp on Oliver’s voice seems to be.
Just as emerging unscathed from adolescence seems like something of an extraordinary feat, so too are the trials of office life elevated to heroic status in Then We Came to the End. If disaffected Adam, Eve, and Oliver grow up to work in an office (though one suspects they won't, as Milward and Dunthorne have hit on success at a fairly young age), they might resemble characters in the pages of Joshua Ferris’s book. Ferris cites Joseph Heller’s Something Happened and Don DeLillo’s Americana as influences, but you also can’t help but be reminded of The Office and Office Space. Bolstering their meagre satisfaction in their office jobs with self-imposed challenges and imaginative conjecture about colleagues, his characters always seem to be having both a worse time of it and far much more fun than you.
Ferris’s use of the groupthink first-person plural (of which we at the Londonist are clearly so fond) suggests that the struggle with identity doesn’t exactly end with the crossing of the magical threshold from teens to twenties and beyond. There's something touching in Ferris's portrayals of characters like Benny, who, whether to merely amuse himself or to somehow reassert his individuality, vows to go through one work day without touching either mouse or keyboard and another day by speaking only in Godfather quotes in conversations with unsuspecting coworkers.
Sigh. The only fault that we could be said to find with this evening of readings is that it, too, had to come to an end. Fortunately, we have the promise of two good reads and one good rereading to make up for it.
The London Word Festival runs through 13 March at various East End venues. Don't miss out!
Image courtesy of adamjinj’s Flickrstream