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Wild Abandon by Joe Dunthorne

By Periscope @periscopepost
Wild Abandon by Joe Dunthorne

Joe Dunthorne, reading at the London Word Festival, 2001. Photo credit: Isabelle Adam,

Wild AbandonSubmarineCurtis Brown Prizethe Bollinger Everyman Woodman Prize for comic literatureSubmarine

Wild Abandon charts the disintegration of an ecological commune in a fictional town in rural Wales, inhabited by an ensemble cast of eccentric characters. The commune, dedicated to alternative living, is run by the increasingly autocratic Don and his disinterested wife, Freya. At the centre of the novel are their two children: 11-year-old Albert, who is both stunningly bright and convinced that the Apocalypse is approaching, and 17-year-old Kate, who dreams of escaping the commune and embracing a glamorous suburban lifestyle.

  • The difficult second novel pays off. Alexandra Hemingsley, writing in The Independent, noted that while crafting the second novel might been a “tricky process for Dunthorne, we the readers benefit from his decision.” The book “never lapses into parody, because Dunthorne doesn’t scrimp on the small moments that make a character light up” and despite the rather thin plot, “his humour remains as robust as it is warm, and each character is treated with a delicate combination of respect and hearty ribbing.” She concluded, “Occupying a terrain that lies between the very British humour of Jonathan Coe and the zeitgeisty ambition of Douglas Coupland, this is a confident follow-up that manages to be both tender and biting.”
  • “No cardboard cutouts here”. Victoria Lane at The Telegraph agreed: “This might sound like a disastrously quirky and contrived set-up, peopled with far too many offbeat characters. In someone else’s hands, it would be just that.” Lane added, “Dunthorne is such a calm, perceptive and naturally comic writer that he rounds everything out and makes all the parts meld.” She went on to describe the character of Albert as “the hub of the book, a creation of some genius.” Marina Benjamin in the Evening Standard also praised Dunthorne’s characterization, noting, “He is at his most linguistically agile working on the smaller canvas of domesticity, drawing characters with real staying power.”
  • Not quite there. Criticism came from Gerard Woodward at The Guardian, who suggested, “Submarine was a very funny read, the humour deriving from its narrator’s viewpoint on an adult world. The comic tone is sustained in Wild Abandon, but with the viewpoint shared between three sets of characters there is a certain dissipation of comic energy and momentum… the comedy never seems pushed as far as it could be, or to have a strong enough sense of purpose behind it.” Humour aside, Dunthorne’s characters don’t quite connect, though, she noted, not for want of trying.

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