Sunday, 10 November 2013

'Wild Abandon' by Joe Dunthorne - book review

The main characters in Joe Dunthorne's second novel are teenager Kate and her 11 year old brother Albert. Their father, Don is the patriarch of the commune at Blaen-y-Llyn and thinks it's all about him. He's wrong of course, but patriarchs generally are.

Kate drops out of the commune to go to school, her sights set on Cambridge, via a sojourn in the suburbs with a boyfriend who ultimately proves boring. Albert is furious at his sister's desertion and prepares for the coming apocalypse, which nobody else believes in, not even his faithful little acolyte Isaac. Freya, their mother, decides to leave Don and goes to live alone in the woods, in a geodesic dome abandoned by Patrick. 

Patrick and Janet are the only other founder members of the commune still there... they are not a couple... The newer arrivals, known as the wwoofers, are few in number; they come and go and are generally lacking commitment, never mind finance. Patrick is the oldest communard, but he drops out too after an excess of hand-crafted substances. This probably seals the commune's fate as, unbeknown to everyone except Don, Patrick has been funding Blaen-y-Llyn for years.

I've tried writing about people living in a commune and they always turn out more dysfunctional than I expected. I can't say that Joe Dunthorne had the same problem with this book, because his cast in Wild Abandon are obviously intended to be dysfunctional from the start. I just wonder if anyone has ever written a novel about a functional commune.

Anyway, Wild Abandon is full of funny set pieces and apt descriptions. It's engagingly written and a very entertaining read. I absolutely loved the (maybe) apocalyptic and certainly orgiastic ending. This would make a great film, provided no Americans get their hands on it - they don't know where Wales is.


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