Thursday 19 January 2012

Devouring Books: Submarine by Joe Dunthorne

All the signs were there that I liked Submarine- I read it a few days, was amused by some parts and disturbed by others, and it generally left me wondering, a lot, about teenage boys. I had one vital problem with it though- when it comes to books about mildly mentally disturbed teenage boys, I have a pretty high benchmark to compare them all to, in the form of The Perks of Being A Wallflower. And Oliver, the main character in Submarine, is nowhere near as sweet, or wonderful, or hopelessly naive as Charlie in Perks, and so I just couldn't get along with him anywhere near as well.

I fully realise how unfair it is to compare one book to another (books set, I might add, in completely different times and places) and I seriously wouldn't do it except that all I could do while reading Submarine was compare it to The Perks of Being a Wallflower, and I kept on doing it even as I got annoyed with myself for doing it. I just kept thinking 'Well, Charlie would never have done that', and 'that's not as noble as something Charlie would think' to which, of course, the only suitable response is 'THAT'S BECAUSE THEY'RE DIFFERENT BOOKS YOU MORON!' I really couldn't help it though, and hey, at least I'm not comparing them both to The Catcher in the Rye like EVERY REVIEWER EVER. Because that would just be cruel.

Anyway! I'll try and put my crazy aside for a minute, and actually tell you about the book! As I've said, Oli is our hero, and in a lot of ways he fits the external specifications for teenage boys- he thinks about girls and sex, he's a bit of a bully, and he often does what's expected of him rather than what he thinks is right, at least in front of his mates. All relatively average, except that also, he's extremely strange- he somehow manages to get into extremely odd situations that literally no one else would get into, and he kind of has no feelings for anyone else, although he's highly attuned to what everyone else thinks about him (although, is narcissism really a strange trait for a teenager? Probably not...). Anyway, while I think the author has tried to play these extreme situations for comedic effect, I really didn't find many of the situations very funny, mainly because of the narrative voice behind them.

Because, here's the thing: I don't like Oliver very much (one critic on the back cover describes him as a sociopath, which I don't think is far off the truth) but then I also feel like he's suffering quite a lot, and behind the situations he finds himself in is a lot of anger, and fear, and sadness, and just general badness. So, while the actual situations may be funny, viewing them filtered through his troubling brain makes them much less so. I would actually like to see the film of Submarine (released last year, I think) because I think that, viewed outside of Oliver's brain, a lot of the mishaps would be a lot funnier than I found them when I was reading the book.

In the end, then, I just didn't really like Oliver enough to really love Submarine. I wouldn't wholly un-recommend it, because while I was reading it I was enjoying it enough to want to finish it, but on the whole I don't think it's a book that's going to stay with me for a long time, which is probably a good thing. If you're looking for one that does that, then I don't think you can go wrong with The Perks of Being a Wallflower, which, although I'm doing that totally unfair comparing thing again, is the far better book in my opinion.


  1. I was literally going to put my review up today! We approached this book soooo very differently.

  2. Ooooh, interesting! I want to see, I want to see! I had such a hard time reviewing it though... Cause I didn't hate it, and I didn't exactly love it, and, yeah, well, issues.