#BookReview The Echo Chamber by John Boyne

The Echo ChamberAbout the Book

What a thing of wonder a mobile phone is. Six ounces of metal, glass and plastic, fashioned into a sleek, shiny, precious object. At once a gateway to other worlds – and a treacherous weapon in the hands of the unwary.

The Cleverley family live a gilded life, little realising how precarious their privilege is, just one tweet away from disaster. They are various degrees of catastrophe waiting to happen.

Together they will go on a journey of discovery through the jungle of the modern living, where carefully curated reputations can be destroyed in an instant. Along the way, they will learn how volatile, how outraged, how unforgiving the world can be when you step from the prescribed path.

Format: Paperback (528 pages)    Publisher: Penguin
Publication date: 12th May 2022 Genre: Contemporary Fiction

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My Review

John Boyne is one of the authors on my list for my Backlist Burrow reading challenge so it was serendipitous that The Echo Chamber was the book chosen for discussion at my book club this month. As is often the case, the book divided opinion with some club members finding it lacking in nuance or simply unable to put up with the unlikeable characters. However, quite a few of us – including myself – found it hilarious and very enjoyable.

I don’t believe The Echo Chamber is intended to be an in-depth exploration of the impact of social media. To me, it’s a satire in which the author pokes fun at various aspects of the modern age such as the rise of social media influencers, the scourge of online trolling and our growing dependence on electronic devices. It can also be seen as his response to the abuse he himself suffered on social media which saw him leave Twitter.  The book’s epigraph includes this quote by John Ronson from his book So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed. ‘The snowflake never needs to feel responsible for the avalanche’.

To my mind, the members of the Cleverley family are clearly designed to be caricatures representing the worst of modern day society.  George, the head of the family, is a popular TV personality – or in his own words ‘a national treasure’. Although he believes himself to be liberal-minded he gets into a series of scrapes through his use of distinctly non-PC language on Twitter and in a broadcast interview.

George’s wife, Beverley is a celebrated – or so she would like to think – author of romantic fiction who employs a ghost to do the hard work of actually writing her books. She gets some of the funniest lines in the book. For example, she proudly recalls one of  her readers commenting on a recent book, ‘She said it reminded her of Wolf Hall. Just without all the boring historical bits’.

George and Beverley’s daughter, Elizabeth represents the nasty side of social media. She is addicted to her phone, suffers panic attacks when separated from it and is intent on increasing her followers on Twitter by any means possible.  At one point, whilst taking a break from trolling celebrities, she even engages in an argument with herself on Twitter.  What may be the greatest moment of her life comes when she gains that elusive blue tick on her Twitter account but disappointment soon follows.

My favourite character was the Cleverley’s eldest son, Nelson, who finds it easier to interact with other people when dressed in a uniform. His experiment with speed dating is one of the funniest scenes in the book. Other memorable characters are Pylyp, a Ukranian dancer, and his pet tortoise named after a Ukranian folk hero.

Each member of the family eventually finds themselves in hot water in a variety of bizarre ways and all of them are brought down to earth with a bump.

The Echo Chamber is certainly very different from the only other book I’ve read by John Boyne, All The Broken Places, although a glance at his backlist demonstrates the great variety in his writing. It’s rare a book makes me laugh out loud but The Echo Chamber did. In fact, I like to imagine John Boyne chuckling away to himself whilst writing certain scenes.  At over 500 pages, I did feel it ran out of steam a bit towards the end but it’s wickedly funny – with the emphasis on  ‘wicked’.

In three words: Funny, entertaining, satirical

John BoyneAbout the Author

John Boyne is the author of thirteen novels for adults, six for younger readers and a collection of short stories. His 2006 novel The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas has sold more than 11 million copies worldwide and has been adapted for cinema, theatre, ballet and opera. His many international bestsellers include The Heart’s Invisible Furies and A Ladder to the Sky. He has won three Irish Book Awards, along with a host of other international literary prizes. His novels are published in over fifty languages. (Photo: Goodreads author page)

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#BookReview #BlogTour #Ad Becoming Ted by Matt Cain

Matt Cain, Becoming Ted blog tourMy thanks to Joe Thomas at Headline for inviting me to take part in the blog and Instagram tour for Becoming Ted by Matt Cain and for my review copy via NetGalley.

Becoming Ted was published on 19th January 2023 and is available in hardback and as an ebook and audiobook.

Do head over to Instagram to check out the reviews and gorgeous pics posted by the other bloggers taking part.

Becoming TedAbout the Book

Ted Ainsworth has always worked at his family’s ice cream business in the quiet Lancashire town of St Luke’s-on-Sea.

He doesn’t even like ice cream, though he’s never told his parents that. When Ted’s husband suddenly leaves him, the bottom falls out of his world.

But what if this could be an opportunity to put what he wants first? This could be the chance to finally follow his secret dream: something Ted has never told anyone …

Format: eARC (464 pages)                Publisher: Headline Review
Publication date: 19th January 2023 Genre: Contemporary Fiction

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My Review

It’s not long before the reader learns the nature of Ted’s dream but although the destination may be clear, it’s the journey that Ted goes on to reach it that is at the heart of the book. It’s a journey the author makes us want to accompany Ted on as he battles with the low self-esteem resulting from being dumped, quite out of the blue, by Giles, his partner of twenty years, and the responsibility he feels towards his parents to be part of the family business, famous for its ice cream. It’s a feeling partly born out of gratitude for his parents’ wholehearted acceptance of his sexuality.

I confess Ted’s dream took me into a world I knew little about, not being familar with the TV programme he and his best friend Denise enjoy watching over a glass (or four) of ‘seccy’.  In this respect I was in a similar position to Oskar, a young Polish man, who is on his own personal journey. The author has a real knack for creating memorable characters and I absolutely adored Oskar.  For instance, I loved that, in an effort to improve his English, he learns a new word every day including some peculiar to Lancashire. There’s also a tender moment involving him at the end of the book that provoked the same reaction in me as does that scene at the end of the film, The Railway Children.

Denise has her own experience of toxic relationships but is an instantly enthusiastic supporter of Ted’s dream offering much needed emotional and practical assistance to help him achieve it. Initially I thought Stanley, an older gay man with a love of wearing pink and listening to Barbra Streisand, was a bit of a stereotype but in fact what he tells Ted about his experiences of being gay in the 1950s at a time when homosexuality was illegal acts as a serious reminder of what a long fight it has been to gain acceptance. Oskar’s story also highlights the homophobia that some gay people still face today.

I liked how we see Ted grow in confidence, learn to stand up for himself and reject taking the easy way out when it is offered. He has a dream and this time he’s not going to let anyone stop him achieving it, not even that inner voice that tells him maybe he’s just not good enough. As it turns out, he’s a natural.

The uplifting, joyful message of the book is perhaps summed up by Denise. ‘She catches a tiny glimpse of a future that might just involve happiness, that might just involve love.’

In three words: Tender, funny, heart-warming

Matt CainAbout the Author

Matt Cain is an author, a leading commentator on LGBT+ issues, and a former journalist.

He is currently a presenter for Virgin Radio Pride UK, was Channel 4’s first Culture Editor, Editor-In-Chief of Attitude magazine, and has judged the Costa Prize, the Polari Prize and the South Bank Sky Arts Awards. He won Diversity in Media’s Journalist Of the Year award in 2017 and is an ambassador for Manchester Pride and the Albert Kennedy Trust, plus a patron of LGBT+ History Month. Born in Bury and brought up in Bolton, he now lives in London. (Bio: Publisher author page/Photo: Twitter profile)

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