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    Review: Wild Abandon by Joe Dunthorne

    Following up a novel as highly acclaimed as Joe Dunthorne’s 2008 Submarine, which was adapted recently into a successful film, can’t be an easy task. Like many coming of age novels with precocious but flawed teenage protagonists, the book attracted comparisons with Catcher in the Rye and Adrian Mole, and Dunthorne’s sharply humorous and poetic style of writing flagged him up immediately as a bright talent.

    His new novel starts, as his debut did, with young people discovering themselves, struggling with first love, A Levels and squabbling parents, but the twist is in the setting: Albert and Kate live in a Welsh commune dedicated to “alternative living”, started up by their parents and their friends, where drugs are something that “old people do”, mobile phones are switched on only in emergencies, showers have to be timed and TV adverts are covered over with a thin curtain. As Don and Freya’s marriage disintegrates and the community seems to be crashing around them, a giant rave is planned, serving partly as a publicity stunt, partly as a necessary bid for salvation in the face of everyone’s internal apocalypses.

    Wild Abandon shares many of the elements that made Submarine such a success. Albert is a wonderful creation, an eccentric and articulate 11 year old masochist with a smooth telephone manner. The writing is excellent and is what makes the book such a delight to read, each page-turning page packed full of unexpected and vivid similes. Dunthorne’s well-honed knack of getting into the minds of his teenage (and non-teenage) characters makes the story constantly believable, and allows the shifting third person perspective to work well, although perhaps the story of drug-fuelled, lovesick Patrick is not as absorbing as that of Albert, led by the Mayan calendar enthusiast Marina to believe that the world is ending, or Kate, who seeks solace in nearby suburbia with her boyfriend Geraint and his family, rebelling from the rebellion. The hopeless idealism of patriarch Don and the sense of despair of his wife Freya are counterbalanced emotively, as real issues and relationships are deftly dealt with alongside humorous vignettes from commune life, such as Don’s attempt at a man-to-man chat with the disgusted Albert.

    The book is clearly well-researched, and moves gradually but enticingly towards a fitting climax. The psychological problems of all the characters do not make them any less endearing, a word which Albert, who “doesn’t understand cute”, is said to hate. Joe Dunthorne has pulled off the proverbially difficult second novel. Wild Abandon is original and absorbing, and full of laugh-out-loud moments: read it before the inevitable indie film gets in the way.

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