The Echo Chamber by John Boyne

Irish writer, John Boyne.

  ‘But you live in Croydon,’ he said.

  ‘What on earth has that got to do with anything?’

  ‘If you don’t know, then there’s very little point in me trying to explain.’

   ‘I’ll have you know that Croydon is becoming quite gentrified these days.’

   ‘I just prefer a postcode that begins with a SW, that’s all,’ said George.

‘My father instilled certain values in me from the start that have stood me in good stead over the years. Carrying a monogrammed handkerchief, for example. Having a good tailor. Matching one’s belt with one’s shoes. The stuff of civilised living.’

‘You can’t make life decisions based on letters of the alphabet.’

‘I don’t see why not.’

It sounds like Boyne’s channelling Noel Coward! But if you’re out to write a comic novel Coward isn’t a bad role model. 

Boyne calls The Echo Chamber, his 13th novel for adults, a farce and indeed it is; and it should be read as one. Outrageous characters with appalling attitudes, self-serving decisions with names to match. Boyne, I think, had a ball writing this one and after his pummelling via social media by internet trolls and hate-loving twitter-ites over his last YA book, My Brother’s Name is Jessica (2019) – he could’ve avoided a lot of angst had he called it My Sister’s Name was Jason –  he had a lot to say and scream at, and a lot to get off his chest.  

The plot involves a famous British couple, George Cleverly, a Michael Parkinson-like BBC TV talk-show host; his popular novelist wife, Beverly Cleverly, who since her first success now employs ‘ghosts’ to pen her novels; their three Children, Nelson, an anxious nelly who can’t make up his mind who he is but likes to wear uniforms; Elizabeth, a social-media acolyte whose narcissism is only second to that of the youngest, Achilles, who scams older men via his charm and good looks while waiting to get laid by any pretty girl who sees him. It’s a family to loath but you also hope it will suddenly see the errors of its ways and move to the Outer Hebrides, or at least to somewhere without an Internet connection. 

This book is a lot of fun and is nothing like anything Boyne has written before. I hope he’s freed himself from his victimhood, taken a deep breath, and, since he’s blessed with booming sales, he will eventually, once all the PR appearances, chat-shows, and media interviews are over, settle down and chill out and let his novelistic talent that created, The Absolutist (2011), The History of Loneliness (2014), and (his masterpiece) The Heart’s Invisible Furies (2017), surge again. THAT I’m looking forward to very much. 

The Echo Chamber is a great quick read to make you laugh out loud, groan a few times, and blow away a few lockdown cobwebs.  

Tring, a small town NW of London, in Herefordshire, holds an annual Book Festival; you can watch John Boyne being interviewed by fellow writer, Clare Pooley, at the 2021 event and talking about The Echo Chamber here

You can purchase the book in various formats here

Stiff Upper Lip, Jeeves by P.G. Wodehouse

British humourist P. G. Wodehouse (1881-1975)

With an opening like this…

I marmaladed a slice of toast with something of a flourish, and I don’t suppose I have come much closer to saying ‘Tra-la-la’ as I did the lathering, for I was feeling in mid-season form this morning. God, as I once heard Jeeves put it, was in His Heaven and all was right with the world. (He added, I remember, some guff about larks and snails, but that is a side issue and need not delay us.);

a setting of a country pile called Totliegh Towers near the village of Totleigh-in-the-Wold; wold, by the way, apart from being the past participle of ‘will’ which we never use, is, apparently, a piece of open ground in Lincolnshire; and a cast of characters such as Sir Watkyn Basset, his daughter, Madeleine, Roderick Spode, Gussie Fink-Nottle, Emerald Stoker, the Rev. Stinker Pinker, and his fiancée, Stiffy Byng, you know what to expect, and that’s exactly what you get.

The irrepressible, and un-embarrassable Bertie Wooster and his faithful and loyal Man, Jeeves, motor to the said house to mix with the said folk and chaos ensues but it’s chaos of the very English countryside kind: all misunderstandings, gnashing of teeth, rolling of eyes, and spurious and fuzzy relationships where love is something like a decision about which scarf one should wear today, given the unseasonable weather.

Bertie Wooster, always the narrator, who doesn’t have a job – unless a job is having lunch at his club – often refers to himself in the third person, a somewhat English habit not unrelated to the royal ‘we’ and the uppity ‘one’. He has the hide of a hippo and the intelligence of a gnat. He seems to hate everybody except those he likes, and those he hates, hate him back, of which he is totally unaware; and those he likes think he’s a bit of a dill. That’s where Jeeves comes in, and always in the nick if t.; and that is one of Bertie’s little tropes, if ‘tropes’ is the word I want? (Ditto). But if it weren’t for Jeeves, who when he does come in it’s usually with tea on a tray, there’d be no story, no 14 books, and no laughs. Thank god – no, thank Wodehouse – for Jeeves since he knows absolutely everything about everything. Wodehouse, by the w, is pronounced ‘Woodhouse’ contrary to usual English pronunciation; so very Bertie Wooster!

Pelham Grenville Wodehouse (1881 – 1975) was a prolific writer of humour and social commentary: novels, articles, short stories, and lyrics for musical comedies (Anything Goes, 1934), – at one time he had 5 musicals – in which he had a hand – running on Broadway, films (Gentleman of Leisure, 1915, Sally, 1929, The Girl on the Boat, 1961), and the creator of many memorable characters, Bertie Wooster and Jeeves being just two of them. At the age of 93 he received a long-overdue knighthood in 1975, but died on St Valentine’s Day 45 days later.

In his 90’s he was asked, “How about writing?”

Oh, as far as the brain goes, I’m fine. I’ve just finished another novel, in fact. I’ve got a wonderful title for it, Bachelors Anonymous. Don’t you think that’s good? Yes, everybody likes that title. Peter Schwed, my editor at Simon and Schuster, nearly always alters my titles, but he raved over that one. I think the book is so much better than my usual stuff that I don’t know how I can top it. It really is funny. It’s worked out awfully well. I’m rather worried about the next one. It will be a letdown almost. I don’t want to be like Bernard Shaw. He turned out some awfully bad stuff in his nineties. He said he knew the stuff was bad but he couldn’t stop writing.

“Stiff Upper Lip, Jeeves” was first published in 1963. The plot? Well, let’s see. It has something to do with an ugly black amber objet b’thingummy which may or may not be stolen; an engagement that may be off, or it may be on; which all has something to do with a steak and kidney pie (see jacket cover). Perhaps I need to explain that the engagement is also threatened by conflicting opinions about sunsets, elves’ bridal veils, and something Dante wrote. Does that help? Oh, and there’s also a bit of fisty-cuffs and the cook elopes with someone’s fiancée which has a devastating effect on the prospect of dinner. Anyway, it’s all very cleverly muddled together to be as light as a … what’s the word I want? Starts with an f. Oh, yes; as light as fluff. And if you’ve ever tried to describe fluff you’ll know what I mean; light fluff is even trickier, but this being so light in fact, it blew away with the breeze before I had a chance to remember it. So, sorry, but entertaining? Very! If you like this sort of English thing; but it can be an effective diversion if read after Frank Morehouse and James Joyce.


You can find all things Wodehouse on his official website:

This particular book you can find here.