Monday, August 22, 2011

Wild Abandon by Joe Dunthorne

In Wild Abandon author, Joe Dunthorne, doesn’t stray too far from the themes and concerns of his hugely successful debut novel, Submarine. Relationships in peril, growing pains, and the idiosyncrasies of the middle-classes are once again explored. But this time using a shifting third-person narrative.

Most of the novel’s action takes place at a commune, Blaen-y-Llyn, which is peopled by a group of English idealists. At the heart of the community is the Riley family: patriarch Don, his long-suffering wife Freya, and their children Kate, 17, and precocious Albert who is 11. Although they have elected to opt out of mainstream society Don and Freya (they met at uni) could be any suburban middle-class couple going through a marital crisis.

It’s not just Don and Freya’s relationship that is disintegrating. Ageing stoner, Patrick, has fallen out with Don over TV adverts. Pat wants the commune's 2 kids to understand how ads are constructed and thus render them (the ads) powerless. Don, by contrast, would prefer to draw a veil across them. Literally. His Ad-guard invention – a converted shower rail – blanks out offending materialistic temptations whenever they appear onscreen.

Dunthorne chooses not to make too much of Welsh/English cultural difference. Which is a relief. The borders that really interest him are those that separate the realms of childhood and the adult world. Albert, for instance, is looking forward to the onset of puberty by regularly smelling himself for signs of development. In his portrayal of Albert, Dunthorne captures perfectly the sometimes odd logic of children, their inventive use of language and their strange preoccupation with violence and death.

Not only is Albert a brilliant comic creation but with his conviction that the world is soon to end (picked up from esoteric Marina) he moves the novel forward toward an apocalyptic conclusion. The apocalypse in question taking symbolic form in a rave organised by Don to reinvigorate the commune and win back the admiration of his estranged wife. It is worth imparting that the choreographing of the rave denouement is expertly handled by the author.

Although there are undoubtedly many satirical moments in the novel Dunthorne doesn’t appear to have a polemical axe to grind with regard to communal living. He is neither discernibly for or against such a lifestyle. However, with Kate, Freya and Patrick all making escape bids we can conclude that Blaen-y-Llyn is a failed project. In Wild Abandon it is ordinary human weaknesses that comically undermine ideology - notably Don’s gargantuan ego and his will to lead.

As well as being a novelist Joe Dunthorne is an accomplished poet. When poets turn their hand to prose it can sometimes go a bit purple. Not so, here. Dunthorne’s poetic eye lends to his writing a crisp precision. His choice of words is often toothsome. An abundance of foodie diction suggests a frustrated chef at work. Wild Abandon is certainly a novel that is well worth getting your teeth into.

*Wild Abandon by Joe Dunthorne is out now and it’s v funny.