A brilliantly inventive new novel about loss, growing up, and our relationship with things, by the Booker Prize-finalist author of A Tale for the Time Being
After the tragic death of his beloved musician father, fourteen-year-old Benny Oh begins to hear voices. The voices belong to the things in his house–a sneaker, a broken Christmas ornament, a piece of wilted lettuce. Although Benny doesn’t understand what these things are saying, he can sense their emotional tone; some are pleasant, a gentle hum or coo, but others are snide, angry and full of pain. When his mother, Annabelle, develops a hoarding problem, the voices grow more clamorous.
At first, Benny tries to ignore them, but soon the voices follow him outside the house, onto the street and at school, driving him at last to seek refuge in the silence of a large public library, where objects are well-behaved and know to speak in whispers. There, Benny discovers a strange new world, where “things happen.” He falls in love with a mesmerizing street artist with a smug pet ferret, who uses the library as her performance space. He meets a homeless philosopher-poet, who encourages him to ask important questions and find his own voice amongst the many.
And he meets his very own Book–a talking thing–who narrates Benny’s life and teaches him to listen to the things that truly matter.
With its blend of sympathetic characters, riveting plot, and vibrant engagement with everything from jazz, to climate change, to our attachment to material possessions, The Book of Form and Emptiness is classic Ruth Ozeki–bold, wise, poignant, playful, humane and heartbreaking.
PUBLISHED BY CANONGATE BOOKS
Poignant, emotional, inventive – I think those words best sum up this reading experience! It has one of the most novel ways of telling the story via 2 narrators! Young Benny who is at the heart of the story, alongside the voice of ‘the book’! And Benny hears the book telling his story too which leads to some brilliant exchanges between the two of them and it just makes reading their story even more captivating.
Young Benny is dealing with the sudden death of his father and this trauma leads to him starting to hear voices. And not just any voices, but the thoughts and feelings of everyday items that crowd his mind leading to those around him worry as to what is wrong with him. His mother tries her best to be there for her son, but she’s dealing with her own grief and her hoarding starts to spiral out of control. There’s a lot of exploration of mental health in this story and the author has approached the subjects with compassion and care.
It is a very difficult book to review as there’s so many threads to it, but it all boils down to humans and their fragility. Their strength. Their quirks. And the ways that people find comfort, be that in the pages of a book or through connecting with others.
Your heart just breaks for Benny at times as there’s nobody around who understands what he’s going through. But he finds a strength somewhere deep down to try and make sense of it on his own, while watching his mother go through her issues. There’s a clear message throughout about decluttering/letting go of the past to help clear your mind and this comes across loud and clear in a very creative way.
It’s heartbreaking and heartwarming in equal measures and is one of those books where the characters stay with you long after the final page. Wonderful!