The Wales Readathon, aka Dewithon is being hosted by Paula at Book Jotter. It’s running throughout March. Having plenty of books by Welsh authors on my shelves it’s a great opportunity to help the TBR piles, if only a little! I hope to read at least two titles, the first of which is below:
The Adulterants by Joe Dunthorne
I first came across Joe Dunthorne back in 2011 when I heard him read from his second novel Wild Abandon at a blogger’s evening hosted by Penguin. Although I have good intentions (always with reading!), I haven’t managed to read one of his novels until now, but I have seen, and loved, Richard Ayoade’s film of his debut book, Submarine. Incidentally, he has a book of poetry coming out published by Faber called O Positive in April. I’ve jumped in with his most recent novel, published last year.
The Adulterants is the story of an everyman. Ray is a techno journalist, living in a rented flat with his heavily pregnant wife Garthene who is a nurse in the ICU. Given the baby’s coming, they’re looking for a place to buy, but even with estate agent Dan’s help, finding something inside the M25 that’s affordable is a nigh impossible task – especially when you’re up against those buying-to-let.
Ray is an easy-going blokey chap, never fully grown up really like many millennials in their thirties. His job is crap, but you can dream… right? Unfortunately, his life is about to take a toxic turn, which begins at a party with best friends Lee and Marie. Seeking some quiet, Ray and Marie go into a bedroom, and just lie in a bed together talking. When Marie puts a hand on him, his body reacts and before it gets any further Lee appears and promptly clocks Ray around the head. Ray wasn’t going to cheat on Garthene – honest.
That I had never been punched in the face before seemed faintly ridiculous. How could I claim full maturity without ever having jumped through that life hoop? There were the obvious feelings you’d expect – pain, shock, fear that my average looks could not carry off a characterful nose – but also pride that I no longer held the burden of innocence, this virgin face, and relief too, at being damaged, because that was realistic, that was something to build on, and so I hoped for minor disfigurement, not anything massive but a cut little scimitar-shaped blue-white ridge of scar tissue working with the shape of my cheekbone, something to mark my arrive in adulthood, …
Marie uses this event as an excuse to chuck out Lee, who sofa-surfs with Ray and Garthene, being rather a cuckoo in the nest. But this is minor, compared with what happens next, when Ray inadvertently gets caught up in the London riots.
The hapless Ray goes through life cracking jokes, thinking things will get better but his life and relationship falls apart around him. But ever the eternal optimist, he never really lets it get him down, he sees the positive in everything. It’s hard to dislike him! The blurb describes him as ‘competitively sensitive’ and that phrase encapsulates Ray’s personality so well. Garthene is everything Ray is not, but I can see why a caring and capable woman would be attracted to him; he does need a bit of mothering sometimes, but he tries hard.
I love the title of this novel – you might misread it as The Adulterers, but although that is one of its minor themes, the word ‘adulterants‘ – which is defined simply as ‘a substance used to adulterate another, ‘ in other words, a contaminant, pollutant or foreign body – is so accurate. In everything that happens to Ray, there is a contaminant of one kind or another that takes his path off track. Throughout, Ray muses about breathing in other’s molecules too – more adulterants, not always unpleasant, but circumstance dependent. This reminds me of the science story that theoretically we are all breathing molecules that had been breathed out by: insert historical character here – e.g. Elizabeth I. I found this article at Futurism.com which tests the theory. Added to the chemical aspects of the title, is the impact of the word ‘adult‘ in it and whether Ray finally matures enough to call himself one.
I really enjoyed this short novel which, at 173 pages, packs a lot of incident into its pages. Exploring masculinity is a big theme in literature and non-fiction at the moment, and through his breezy narrator, Dunthorne takes a wry look at the subject that has its heart-breaking moments, but is really funny throughout. I loved it, and am now really keen to go back to his first novels and new poetry collection. (9/10)
Source: Own copy from the TBR! Joe Dunthorne, The Adulterants (Hamish Hamilton, 2018) 173 pages, hbk and pbk.
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