The cultured teenager

the best of literature, film and music, shown through my rather short-sighted eyes

Tag Archives: books

Submarine by Joe Dunthorne

Set in 1997, in Swansea, Submarine tells the story of ordinary teenager Oliver Tate. Any teenage boy, myself included, will relate to his comical and over-sexual narration, brilliantly sculpted by Dunthorne who makes Oliver a likeable and realistically awkward character and a superb narrator. His over complicated and ultra-descriptive narrative is itself at many times hilarious, his dairy entries a particular highlight in the book. The story itself is is rather normal and mundane, yet is still effortlessly entertaining through Oliver’s narration and the ridiculous conclusions which he jumps to; such as his theories that his mother’s Capoeira teacher indulges in equine sexual fantasies and his judgement that the man living at number 16 is a pansexual. Dunthorne however sidesteps the possibility of this purely being a teenager and some comic sexual actions, and he instead moves through an often bleak and always witty narrative without being as crass and crude as many teenage comedy novels are. Oliver is intelligent and self-assured however at times he is still incredibly human and, well, idiotic and incredulous.

This is, when push comes to shove, a coming-of-age story, although Oliver’s underlying innocence is prevalent throughout his well-meaning narrative. He often mistakes his knowledgeable nature for being experienced, constantly using verbose language yet not thinking enough to realise that it is best to be there for your girlfriend when her mum is diagnosed with a brain tumour. The narrative is perfectly pitched by Dunthorne and Oliver Tate is likeable even if he is precocious, Dunthorne mocking the manners and mindset of 15 year old boys trying to fit in, yet trying to be better than everyone-else simultaneously. Dunthorne extracts great comedy from Oliver’s over-analytical views, such as this paragraph. Some euphemisms make you sound like Martin Clove, a boy who, for psychological reasons, doesn’t have to use the communal showers after rugby. When we ask Martin what is wrong with his wang, he gets defensive and refers to it as his little man. This implies a kind of distant seemingly friendly relationship between him and his penis.

Last year Dunthorne’s book was turned into a film by Richard Ayoade, which is a great interpretation, although, as is often the case I prefer the book. This an excellent, incredibly easy read and a great one for this summer. Regards 🙂

Notes From A Small Island by Bill Bryson

It is rare that I would read a travelogue. For an 18 year old they are, for the most part, not that interesting. They are list of observations and facts rather than some elaborate, intense story which has the sole purpose in gaining and then keeping your attention for the entirety of the novel. Equally, when I read non-fiction it is far more likely to be with a specific purpose in mind rather than merely for a few hours entertainment; I am interested in History and enjoy History books but those books are read as much through educational purposes as through interest. It would also be rare for me read about a topic which I know well. The topic in question is the United Kingdom, the nation in which I live. I know it as well as most, well, at least that is what I like to think, but although I know lots of generalised information about the country, a country is not an entity in itself, but is instead a collection of places and people within specific boundaries. This is clearly Bryson’s point; a travelogue shouldn’t be a list or a simple account of what you can see where and lists of nice restaurants, but should be an experienced account of an ordinary person who could be doing whatever they want and chooses to explore.

Bryson, an already very successful writer and journalist, decided to explore this glorious and cynical nation before leaving it to voyage back to his American homeland. This anecdotal narrative highlights what is brilliant and what is dreadful about Britain, constantly entertaining the reader, making the story less of a travelogue and more of a journey of discovery, the British reader constantly empathising with his descriptions of the nations failings, and laughing at his witty, descriptive narrative. He summarises British culture and the British mindset easier than any biased Brit could possibly do, mocking our enjoyment in the dull, our witty humour and love of ridiculously named places, such as Farleigh Wallop and Titsey. “Before long I came to regard all kinds of activities – asking for more toast in a hotel, buying wool-rich socks in Marks & Spencer, getting two pairs of trousers when I only really needed one – as something daring, very nearly illicit. My life became immensely richer.” It is clear throughout the book that he is often taking the piss out Britain, but simultaneously is taking the piss out of himself and us Brits, but I don’t care because all of his observations and mockeries are completely true and justified. It makes me glad I’m not French. I am British and we have character and a sense of humour. The book, however, is not just an analysis of British convention but just as much of Bryson and his life in Britain and his connection with the country. This is a great, easy read, particularly as non-fiction goes, and is a particularly useful read for any wannabe writers. Bryson’s writing style is second-to-none, and since reading the book is something I have only idolised. Its a great book, an easy summer read, and is particularly witty when you are looking at it from the same British viewpoint as myself. I hope you enjoy it, regards 🙂

All My Friends Are Superheroes by Andrew Kaufman

Tom lives in a society which is virtually the same to our own, except for the significant population of superheroes within society. Tom isn’t a superhero, but, as you can guess from the title, all of his friends are superheroes. Apart from the notion of superheroes themselves, this isn’t a book about sci-fi or about newspaper journalists who jump into a phone-box and gain superhuman strength, but is about humanity and life in general. These superheroes are not hiding what makes them special; rather, they treat themselves and are often treated as though they are not special at all. Tom describes how in Toronto there are 249 superheroes, “none of whom have secret identities”, and it is through this manner that Kaufman tells a story about the human condition.

Not only is Tom friends with superheroes, but is in a relationship with one: The Perfectionist. She has the ability to put things into order with the power of the mind, which isn’t a stereotypical superpower, as are many of the powers within the novel, as they mostly seem to be extensions of human personality. The Perfectionist however is unaware of the existence of Tom, because on their wedding day, her ex-boyfriend, Hypno, used his power in order make Tom invisible to The Perfectionist. As you can tell, its slightly odd and complex, but the story involves Tom flying to Vancouver in order to make her see him before she finally moves on, 6 months after she was hypnotized.

Kaufman also brings up the question of whether or not superhuman powers are a gift or not. The Sloth, The Projectionist, The Battery and The Amphibian are some of the range of superheroes who are thrown in to add more quirk and laughs into the novel. The ‘heroes’ are shown as metaphors for ourselves and the human condition cleverly by Kaufman, with numerous of my friends mirroring The Sloth. Tom however is the real hero, and unsurprisingly triumphs in a world of superhuman talents, using the qualities many of us take for granted. Its an enjoyable book, and just an hours read, so there is no excuse not to read it. Regards 🙂

Brighton Rock by Graham Greene

I can safely say, this is probably one of my favourite books. It’s cleverly written, has a lucid narrative, but also contrasts an embedded bleakness with many aspects of a thriller. It was through ‘Brighton Rock’ that Graham Greene found major commercial success, written in 1938, and by 1947 had been moved to the silver screen for John Boulting’s adaptation, which was itself brilliant, namely for Richard Attenborough’s ferocity as Pinkie Brown.

Pinkie Brown is the ultimate literary anti-hero, such that his malevolence and anguish still resonates with modern audiences and creates an utter fascination through the entirety of the novel. I am 17. Pinkie Brown is also 17. There is a slight contrast between us, lifestyle, time period, oh and I’m not a sinister power-hungry gangster, desperate to make not only cash, but a name for himself and a menacing reputation. One sentence in and Greene has already instilled the tone of the whole novel; “Hale knew, before he had been in Brighton three hours, that they meant to murder him”. The novel is structured around Pinkie’s attempts to cover up Hale’s murder, but these are somewhat thwarted by Ida Arnold, whom had met Fred hale in his last hours. Through Pinkie’s efforts to close the case on his gang’s and his own personal connection to the death, his story becomes intertwined with that of a young waitress, Rose. It is Ida’s purpose to stop Rose fulfilling her terrible, ominous fate; Greene shows Ida in complete contrast to Pinkie and Rose as a loud, secularist femme-fatale, allergic to the religious overtones and the images of redemption running parallel to Pinkie and Rose’s tainted relationship. Relationship isn’t the right word, it is more like a prison, or maybe purgatory. The only thing bleaker than Brighton and the gangster culture that inhabits it, is Pinkie and his aggressive, twisted attitude which devours all emotion he bears witness to.

Few people reach the disturbing evil that is enmeshed within Pinkie Brown and gang culture, but it is a story which still resonates, particular with youth culture, with this cultural boom of the 30’s foreshadowing those in the later 20th century, whether it be Mod, Punk or Urban culture. There will always be a dark undercurrent within society, but that makes it all the more interesting to me and, I expect, to those who read this bleak, brilliant novel. A consuming, outstanding read which I would highly recommend. Regards 🙂