Well, this is exactly the kind of book that made me avoid adult fiction for some time. A story about a soon-to-be divorced middle-aged man, with a son about to leave home, going on a life-affirming trip round Europe to try and reunite his fractured home… tha-a-a-a-t ultimately ends up with it all being for nothing.
Still, it did have a few things going for it:
1. It’s well written. Aside from perhaps the overabundance of lists, there are nice little turns of phrases like: “contorting his body into a question mark”
2. There’s a sad side to the story and some parts are deeply moving.
3. There’s an actual plot! Huzzah! (I know this might seem like a weird one to list, but enough adult/literary fiction is lack in this department, so I may as well praise it when I see it).
Buuuut this is all completely ruined by the fact that ALL the characters in this are AWFUL PEOPLE. Pretentious, selfish, shitty people. I couldn’t stand any of them. I don’t know if this book was designed to make me hate everyone in it, but it certainly managed to do that. Let’s start with the worst offender shall we? The son, Albi, made me come up with a whole host of reasons why his parents should have shoved him in a canal and been done with him:
1. His main reason for not wanting to go to Europe to see the art there, despite being an aspiring “artist”, is because European art was made by: “a lot of dead white Europeans”. UGH. What a reductive way to look at art. Also, WHAT KIND OF PEOPLE DO YOU EXPECT TO FIND IN EUROPE? The kind of idiot that would say Europe is full of Europeans is the kind of person who would take photos of his shoe (he does that too).
2. He’s too surly to put forward any sensible reasons why he doesn’t want to go on holiday with his parents (aka “thanks for the offer mum and dad, but I’ve just graduated school and am about to turn 18, so no thanks” NOT “BUUUUT I WANNNNA GO PARTAYYYY WAHHH!”) Not that I think it’s a good idea to take a reluctant 17 year old on holiday, but you’re not gonna convince any parent with the excuse “I just want to get drunk!”
3. On top of that, he’s the kind of ungrateful shit that’s had everything given to him on a silver platter, but STILL feels hard done to (because apparently parents/society/the world is oppressing you… by giving you everything?!) That’s right- he’s so WOKE that he understands how inherently *evil* the world is and therefore gets to throw his weight around like an overgrown toddler… because? I dunno if it was deliberate, but he was a bigger spoilt brat (and less nuanced) than Dudley Dursley.
4. Also, he’s basically the villain. Don’t believe me? Here’s a list within the list of terrible things he does: refuses to spend time with his parents who’re bankrolling his trip, brings creepy 10 YEARS OLDER girlfriend to family breakfasts, gets angry at father for trying to de-escalate said fight, picks fights, runs away from said parents without a word leaving them to worry themselves sick, steals his father’s credit card, claims to be going round Europe on a shoestring budget WHILE USING SAID STOLEN CREDIT CARD, blames parents for all of above behaviour- I could go on but it’s an exhaustingly long list. The only excuse anyone can give for this behaviour is that he’s a teen- although that’ll only get him off the hook if you believe teens are inherently good and not responsible for their actions. Also, spoiler alert, he’s gay (big frickin whoop- do you think it gives you licence to be the world’s biggest prat?)
However, it’s no surprise that he’s a nightmare teen, as his mother Connie also sucks:
1. She is a terrible mother, because she let’s Albi do whatever he wants and tells her husband off for daring to discipline the out of control little berk. I have no idea why the whole book revolves around the father looking for his son to apologise, when really the kid needs a kick up the backside! (hopefully propelling him into said canal)
2. She has an inexplicable affair and spends a lot of the book full of contempt for her husband- despite him putting her on a pedestal.
3. In fact, everything she does is inexplicable– she marries a guy she doesn’t want to marry for no real reason (he just asked enough, I guess?) She then decides it’s time for a divorce cos she’s bored. I couldn’t think of a single reason to like this woman, despite being frequently told by the narrator how “terrific” she was. I for one would’ve liked an iota of evidence of her GLORIOUS AMAZING SUPERCALIFRAGILISTIC personality.
Lastly there was the protagonist. Ah Douglas- smart, but exceptionally stupid old Douglas. I feel almost like kicking a puppy when I say this, cos he was idiotically loyal, but the guy’s a bit of bellend too- here’s why:
1. He inherently lacks logic. I’m gonna assume that the views he holds don’t belong to the author, so I’m not trying to have a go, but WOW he’s got some dim-witted ideas about the future. For instance, he believes we’re going to live in a futuristic hellscape, where there are more robots, yet SOMEHOW the poor are still doing manual labour? Also, apparently, the ever-growing entertainment industry will shrink overnight and disappear. All of which is the fault of capitalism. No need to back up any of those claims- just go with it. That’s what everyone else seems to do in the book. Either that or sit there and silently fume (which only made me hate them more).
2. Ridiculous fortunetelling aside, he is also completely clueless about people. The quiz night is the perfect example why (if you’ve read the book, you’ll know what I mean). He has zero emotional intelligence- which meant any sympathy I had for him quickly dried up.
3. He also doesn’t know when he’s right or when to stand up for himself. He apologises to his son, his wife- and nobody ever seems to cotton onto the fact he’s being too generous. Despite this supposedly being about coming back together, reconciling differences, there’s never any real communication where they thrash out their differences. Douglas is just WRONG, everyone else is RIGHT.
Admittedly this had a few plot twists and turns here and there to make it seem like things might work out- but I’ll save you all the bother of worrying: it doesn’t. Things end in much the same place as they begin. Except Douglas is cool with the fact his life is falling apart now. So that’s good, I guess. If you’re into this sort of thing, you might even like it. For me, I’m pretty done with books that masquerade as artsy by going the bleak route.
Rating: 2/5 bananas
So, dare I ask, have you read this book? What did you think of it? Did you enjoy it more than me? Let me know in the comments- don’t be shy!