The small world of Oliver Tate is detailed in this limp first novel by a young Welshman.
Oliver is almost 15, the only child of middle-class parents in Swansea, South Wales, and a self-absorbed smartass. His best friend is Chips, the school bully; he and Oliver make life such hell for a fat girl called Zoe that she’s forced to transfer. On a family vacation in Tuscany, he’s too busy tricking his father into rescuing him from a mock drowning to notice he’s in a foreign country. The story he narrates is sprinkled with diary entries and e-mails; brand names lend it a spurious reality. The first time he has sex it’s with his girlfriend Jordana in his parents’ bed. (The bed could use the action; the marriage of Oliver’s parents is going through a rough patch, and they haven’t had sex in months.) Oliver’s mother Jill goes to a meditation retreat run by an old friend, Graham, a New Age type who Oliver believes is bent on seducing her. He follows her there, planning an “intervention,” but comes off looking like a self-dramatizing jerk, in contrast to the calm, long-suffering adults. (This episode, and its later ramifications, are what you get to chew on in lieu of a plot.) He doesn’t manage any better with Jordana, whose mother is having an operation for a brain tumor. Jordana has become newly sensitive to those around her, a sensitivity Oliver has no use for; he ignores her in her hour of need, so naturally she dumps him. Then Zoe shows up, more attractive and many pounds lighter, and devises an ingenious payback. Poor Oliver; it’s just not fair. Is suicide the answer? He ends his story with a grandiose vision of his corpse being plucked from the ocean; the shot is all over the Internet and CNN. Any coming-of-age moment is still a long way off.
Sharp observations don’t count for much beside such an unappealing protagonist.