‘To err is human, but to foul things up you only need a phone…..’
– The Echo Chamber
[ 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 unwitting, the inept.
The Cleverley family live a gilded life, little realising how precarious their privilege is, just one tweet away from disaster. George, the patriarch, is a stalwart of television interviewing, a ‘national treasure’ (his words), his wife Beverley, a celebrated novelist (although not as celebrated as she would like), and their children, Nelson, Elizabeth, Achilles, various degrees of catastrophe waiting to happen.
Together they will go on a journey of discovery through the Hogarthian jungle of the modern living where past presumptions count for nothing and 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.
[ My Review ]
The Echo Chamber by John Boyne was published August 5th with Doubleday and is described as ‘a satirical helter-skelter, a dizzying downward spiral of action and consequence, poised somewhere between farce, absurdity and oblivion…powered by John Boyne’s characteristic humour and razor-sharp observation’.
The first question I asked myself when I first heard the title The Echo Chamber is what does it mean?
What is an echo chamber?
‘Information can come from many different sources and perspectives. But when you’re only hearing the same perspectives and opinions over and over again, you may be in something called an echo chamber. An echo chamber is an environment where a person only encounters information or opinions that reflect and reinforce their own. Echo chambers can create misinformation and distort a person’s perspective so they have difficulty considering opposing viewpoints and discussing complicated topics.’ (Source – GCF Global Learning)
If you are a passionate social media addict, if you love to jump on the bandwagon of a Twitter argument or you secretly are a keyboard warrior who loves to throw digs at folk, then maybe, possibly, perhaps The Echo Chamber is not for you. Packed full with non-PC comments that could upset some readers, John Boyne has come out fighting from the outcry surrounding his 2019 book My Brother’s Name is Jessica with a lively, and blatantly exaggerated, depiction of a family caught up in the whirlwind of likes, blue ticks, ratios and the cancel culture.
The Cleverly Family are made up of Dad, George, a ‘national treasure’, known to the country for his long-running TV chat-show. Then we have Mum, Beverley, an ‘author’ of many books, and their three dysfunctional children, Nelson, Elizabeth and Achilles. Living in a very exclusive part of London, the Cleverly Family rarely spend time together as a unit. Up to a few years ago, George and Beverley had a very loving relationship, enjoying each other’s company and having their children around them. But, in recent years the monster that is social media has invaded their lives and the family dynamic has fractured a little.
Nelson, the eldest, clearly troubled, has suffered from bullying all his life. He is a gentle and troubled soul, still trying to discover his true self and looking for someone who understands him. Elizabeth is surgically attached to her phone and her social media numbers. Elizabeth dreams of being an influencer possessing THAT longed-for blue tick and is prepared to go to any lengths to fulfil her ambition. Achilles is seventeen years old. He is a cocky so-and-so, with a confidence that opens doors. Achilles does not intend to go down the traditional working route and has plans to finance his dreamed of lifestyle in a less orthodox and rather unethical manner.
George Cleverly, now in his sixth decade, was always a man known for his strength of character. He discussed many controversial topics with his guests over the years and was always willing to express his own personal opinion on a subject, be that of national or international interest. One day George unwittingly makes a huge career faux-pas by sending out a tweet, one that in his mind shares his empathy and support for someone who is transitioning. But George gets his wording very, very wrong and Twitter literally explodes, with the vitriol jumping off every form of media available. George honestly cannot see what he did wrong and, instead of laying low, goes on prime time TV to ‘apologise’, which is his second major mistake. He lets rip about society, speaking about the power that is given to the keyboard warrior…
“Every person vying with everyone else to see who can be the most affronted, who can show that they’re the most Woke and each one desperate to prove that they’re morally superior to the poor unfortunate idiot who’s been dragged into their cauldron of pain”
But George cannot stop expressing his views and, with mistake number three, he goes one step too far, referring to other sections of society in a-less-than PC manner. George let his anger and upset take him too far across the line and the fallout is catastrophic.
When reading The Echo Chamber, it is extremely obvious that this is a very personal book for John Boyne, a book he needed to write to help him lay to rest some of his demons after Jessica. It is a book that requires a very open mind and is one that I, personally, thoroughly enjoyed. I do oft-times feel that society today takes itself very seriously. Of course there have been much needed improvements in how we treat and respect each other across sex, gender, creed and colour but sometimes we have to be able to laugh at ourselves too. John Boyne has created an extreme example of a family who went too far, of a family that didn’t stop and look at where they were heading, but instead just ploughed on into a car-crash of circumstances.
I laughed out loud on numerous occasions, quoting paragraphs to anyone who would listen but I was also very much aware of the message that was filtering through. Highlighting society’s obsession with our online connections and our insatiable need to be liked and followed by strangers, The Echo Chamber is a sardonic and somewhat saucy study of human nature and all its insecurities.
The Echo Chamber is not the usual type of literature that we are used to from John Boyne and, I have no doubt, he may have gone a step too far for some of his fans. If you are looking to be entertained, and we all need that now more than ever, I really would suggest that you take a punt on this novel. It’s frothy, it’s fun, it’s engaging, but with barbs, lots of barbs!
[ Bio ]
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.
Twitter – @john_boyne