Wild Abandon

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Wild Abandon, Joe Dunthorne, book reviewWild Abandon is the second novel by Joe Dunthorne, after the very successful (and funny) Submarine, which was also made into a good independent film. Submarine was about adolescence, and Wild Abandon in part is set in similar territory, reflecting the fact that Dunthorne is still a very young writer.

Wild Abandon is a comic novel set in a commune in South Wales. Kate is the adolescent daughter of the founders and leaders of the commune (Don and Freya), and Albert is her pre-adolescent younger brother. The Commune is a large house in the countryside with various dilapidated outbuildings, which is in a state of steady decline. It is populated by a group of eccentric inhabitants, some of whom we get to know in the course of the novel whilst others remain ciphers. The plot is fairly lightweight, and meanders along with a few funny set pieces – the main interest of the book is the characters themselves and their various entwined relationships.

One of the main strands is Kate’s desire to escape into a more conventional life, which involves her running away and moving in with her boyfriend’s family in conventional suburbia. Kate is probably the main character of the book, and its most articulate voice. Her younger brother Albert’s growing conviction that the world is about to end is also important, along with the gradual breakdown of her parent’s relationship. Patrick is a longstanding family friend of Don and Freya and the main funder of their lifestyle – his longstanding unrequited relationship with Janet provides a more emotionally convincing strand to the plot, as he eventually realises that the relationship will always be one way. And a host of other characters who we do not get to know so well dip in and out to provide comic moments, leading up to a climactic party/rave at the end when the various plotlines are drawn together and resolved.

Second novels are difficult, and although I enjoyed Wild Abandon, at times I thought that Joe Dunthorne was straining a little too hard to be funny. This is an off-beat, quirky book, and there are some very funny moments, but I did not think it was either as assured or as funny as Submarine. There is such a thing as too zany, and at times Wild Abandon strays a little over that line. Nonetheless, Dunthorne is clearly a very talented writer and this book is an entertaining read, if not always as engrossing as I had hoped. I would recommend this book to those who enjoyed Submarine, or who like comic novels in general – it would be a good holiday read.

Wild Abandon by Joe Dunthorne
Published by Hamish Hamilton, August 2011

With thanks to Hamish Hamilton for providing a proof copy for the purposes of this review.

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Wild Abandon
by Joe Dunthorne

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Written by Ian

Ian is a medical academic with a long standing interest in books, particularly literary and crime fiction, as both a reader and a collector. He has published extensively in the scientific literature, mainly on nutrition. He has two grown-up children and lives in Ireland.

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