About 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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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
About 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)