November 7, 2011
In his semiamusing second novel, Dunthorne (Submarine) once again saddles children with problematic parents. Eleven-year-old Albert and 17-year-old Kate chafe under the attention of their father, Don, and mother, Freya, who have founded a self-sustaining commune called Blaen-y-Llyn in South Wales. Home-schooled Kate yearns to be normal and forces her parents to enroll her in the local school, while Albert, obsessed with end times, is actively planning for the apocalypse. Meanwhile, the shrinking community is falling apart; Freya is thinking about taking Albert and leaving Don; and Kate moves in with her boyfriend’s middle-class family. As a last ditch attempt to hold everything together, Don throws a rave and invites the local townsfolk. Dunthorne proves himself an equal opportunity satirist of both neo-hippie and petit bourgeois pretensions: after suffering a nervous breakdown, commune cofounder Patrick has a difficult time readjusting to the outside world, and Kate’s boyfriend’s father seems to have an agenda for Kate. Dunthorne revels in all the indignities his back-to-the-land characters have to endure, even returning to the early ’90s recession to dramatize the commune’s founding. Yet the satire is disappointingly uneven, and the uniformly unpleasant characterizations leave a sour aftertaste.