Books

Book review: Going Out

Until recently I’d never heard of Scarlett Thomas, nor her books. Then, I signed up for this reading challenge and one of the challenges required me to read a book by one author who’s surname matched the first name of the next order. You would be surprised how difficult this is. I decided that Schindler’s Ark by Thomas Keneally was a good idea since surely an author existed who’s surname was Thomas and, after a brief search, I found Scarlett Thomas.

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Going Out by Scarlett Thomas

Going Out is a book I liked in spite of myself. It seemed, at first glance, superficial and daft. A man who’s allergic to the sun, the girl who has been his best friend since childhood. Drugs, casual sex, academic prospects rejected out of anxiety, friends who are only friends due to long proximity – there’s the potential for something interesting there, but it’s not exactly fertile ground for saying anything that hasn’t been said before.

Then, completely out of the blue, it turns out that this girl is a bit of a mathematics prodigy. She deliberately threw her A-Levels so she could continue living near her best friend who can never leave his house, although her crippling anxiety issues sealed the deal. She works as a waitress because it’s easy and safe and gives her time to think about unsolved mathematical problems while she wipes down tables. Then, her sun-phobic pal decides he needs to get out, after 25 years of never leaving his mother’s house, and a group of unlikely individuals work together to make it happen. The goal is to drive him to see a healer who says he might be able to help.

From the introductory chapters, it would have been easy to abandon the book. When people asked what I was reading I found myself saying, “oh, some nonsense” but, slowly, I changed my mind. That doesn’t happen too often to me with books, so I’m kind of impressed. It snuck up on me, but it got compelling. I changed my mind about each character so many times that it started to feel like they were real, like I really knew them.

I mean, don’t get me wrong, there are things I wasn’t crazy about. For example, it’s a very Southern English novel and it’s very of its time (early 2000s) and there’s occasionally a section that’s a bit silly. Mostly, though, the silliness was endearing and, I suspect, had I grown up in Essex, I would have found the period nostalgic rather than irritating.

So I’m chalking this one up as a lucky discovery and I’ll tentatively look into reading more of Scarlett Thomas’s books in the future.

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