This is not my usual sort of read at all, but because I’ve enjoyed so many of John Boyne’s other books (my favourites are A History of Loneliness and This House is Haunted), I’m happy to read anything he writes.
The Echo Chamber is the story of the Cleverleys, an obnoxious and unpleasant celebrity family trying to fit into a world ruled by social media, where more and more of our lives are played out online rather than in ‘real life’. George Cleverley is a famous BBC television presenter who thinks of himself as a national treasure; when he gets himself into trouble for unintentionally misgendering someone, things go from bad to worse as he tries to make amends and ends up offending everyone else along the way. His wife Beverley (yes, Beverley Cleverley) is a bestselling romance novelist whose books are actually the work of ghostwriters. Beverley has been having an affair with a much younger man, her dance partner on Strictly Come Dancing, who has gone home to Ukraine leaving her in charge of his beloved pet tortoise.
The Cleverleys have three children: Nelson (the only one of the family I felt any sympathy for), a teacher who is being bullied at work and has a collection of uniforms he wears to give himself confidence; Elizabeth, a Twitter-addicted ‘influencer’, obsessed with getting likes and increasing her followers; and the youngest, seventeen-year-old Achilles, who has come up with a scheme for blackmailing older men and cheating them out of their money.
This book is hilarious. I don’t always find books funny that are supposed to be, but this one made me laugh. It satirises everything and everyone: the press, the conflict between ‘woke’ and ‘anti-woke’, prejudice and intolerance in all of their forms, supporters and opponents of cancel culture, those who like to document every single moment of their lives on Instagram, the hypocrisy of people who hide behind fake names to post hurtful tweets while using the hashtag #BeKind. All of these things are explored through the lives of the Cleverleys who, for various reasons, get themselves into all sorts of ridiculous and farcical situations. I did sometimes wonder whether John Boyne was writing from personal experience and it does seem that it was written as a response to abuse he received himself on Twitter following the publication of one of his previous books – something I wasn’t aware of, probably because I don’t spend enough time on Twitter!
Beneath the humour, there are some important messages here and this book can be seen as a warning against society’s current obsessions with technology, social media and our online presence. Would we all be happier if we cancelled our accounts, switched off our computers and put away our phones? That’s not likely to happen, but it’s something to think about.
Thanks to Doubleday for providing a copy of this book for review via NetGalley.
This is book 7/20 of my 20 Books of Summer 2021