The Echo Chamber by John Boyne

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The Echo Chamber by John Boyne

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Category: General Fiction
Rating: 5/5
Reviewer: John Lloyd
Reviewed by John Lloyd
Summary: A perfect farce-like comedy that rips to shreds the current trend of inventing your own pronouns and shaming online anyone not on the ball with the season's PC terminology.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 432 Date: August 2021
Publisher: Doubleday
External links: Author's website
ISBN: 978-0857526212

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Meet George Cleverley. He is self-defined as one of the few television personalities over the age of fifty without a criminal record. He starts this book a bit worried when his mistress tells him she's carrying his child, but then his author wife is getting her kicks with the Ukrainian partner Strictly Come Dancing paired her with. They have three children, who are a sad-sack with absolutely no social skills whatsoever, a girl who hangs around with a virtue-signalling, keyboard warrior wokester who wants to save the world's homeless with out-of-date food, and a fit young lad doing the gay hustle thing. Add in a few other characters – therapists, lawyers, random transgender types – that all have two very different connections to his life, and you have something that suggests an almost farcical approach to the modern world. What suggests the farcical approach even more, however, is the fact this is bloody funny.

Yes, I didn't expect such an eventful, comedic romp as this, even from an author as diverse and chameleonic as John Boyne. This is one of the most quotable books I can remember enjoying, with everything from Croydon, Brooklyn Beckham and ITV up the topic of a finely-delivered quip. It helps of course that Cleverley (the most atypical BBC name imaginable, it goes without saying) is riling against all the wokery bollux surrounding him – he's self-identifying as against all the them/they/their/its trying their best to ruin the language of the world he finds himself in, with their ultra-insecurity about body space, PC language, the world's last few lepers and suchlike. This is a world where binaries are necessary, for the simple reason many people are two things at least here – the social media-constructed world has allowed for everyone to hide under an indignant new persona, and a lot of these characters either choose to, or are forced to, adopt a front.

People may take umbrage at a book pointing out the horrendousness (and untranslatability – into French at least) of all the neologistic pronouns, but this book is definitely aimed at those very people. Its target is, of course, the bigoted intolerance of the left, who have created a world where if you are one iota away from their idea that month of political correctness you are completely incorrect, irredeemable, and fair game online (the bigoted intolerance of the right is deemed an unalterable given). Such a topic, and the fact this is set optimistically in a post-Covid, post-vaccine 2021, may make one think this is just a book valid for the month it comes out, but while being drop-dead current it has much of a greater picture to show us, and is all the greater for it.

What Boyne also offers is a selection of characters he has wrung every potential comedic breath from, all to our benefit (he also must have a strong legal team, for there are so many current butts to his jokes it amazed me what he got away with). Beyond the social (media) faux pas that feature prominently in the plot, the whole bunch of them have flaws and extremities of character, yet none of them at all appear unlikeable. They are great company, for all their alleged transgressions. This all boils down to a book that is just about perfect – yes, I suspect it makes a mistake as to where Celebrity Mastermind is filmed, but if that's what counts as a flaw you're on to a winner. As to winners, I got it utterly wrong the last time I predicted something for the Wodehouse Prize for comedic novel. But surely I'm one from two here.

(And I can't even remember what I thought would win the Wodehouse recently, but was delighted when Nina Stibbe won at the third time of trying.)

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