Joe Dunthorne

Random House
Hardcover/320 pages
ISBN: 1400066832
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". . . a novel departure from the standard coming of age fare and well worth reading . . ."

Submarine : A nontraditional coming of age chronicle.


Oliver Tate, nearly fifteen, is an unusual young man. He is very intelligent, drily sarcastic and too old for his years, anxious to lose his virginity. Into his world of school pranks with his mates and a growing erotic relationship with the demanding Jordana comes Graham, a New Age flame from his mother’s past. Graham lures Oliver’s mother away from the family fold with classes in meditation, martial arts and surfing. Oliver goes on the offensive to thwart Graham’s plans for seducing his mother.

In the meantime Jordana’s eczema clears up, revealing a beautiful young woman who only Oliver had noticed. Her mother undergoes surgery for a brain tumor. Oliver focuses so intensely on his plans to separate his mother and Graham to keep his parents together that he ignores Jordana when she needs him most. Jordana changes while Oliver isn't paying attention and finds someone else. Caught between first love and fear that his parents are headed for a divorce, Oliver turns his life upside down.

There is no more tragic and poignant time than the teenage years when everything is either life or death. Joe Dunthorne taps into this frenetic period in Submarine. Part epistolary novel and part coming of age, its main character comes off a bit too slick and confident for a teenager. However, there is a childlike vulnerability in Oliver’s struggle to juggle his failing relationship with Jordana with his drive to keep his parents together.

Oliver’s parents are as baffled by their child as I was. Despite Dunthorne’s slick prose, quirky characters and imaginative plotting, Submarine is barely believable at times and radically different. Dunthorne’s first effort is a novel departure from the standard coming of age fare and well worth reading, as much for its flaws as for its strengths.

Reviewer: J. M. Cornwell