Idiopathy – Sam Byers

Published June 9, 2013 by bibliobeth


What’s it all about?:

Idiopathy (ɪdɪˈɒpəθi): a disease or condition which arises spontaneously or for which the cause is unknown.

Idiopathy: a novel as unexpected as its title, in which Katherine, Daniel, and Nathan—three characters you won’t forget in a hurry—unsuccessfully try to figure out how they feel about one another and how they might best live their lives in a world gone mad. Featuring a mysterious cattle epidemic, a humiliating stint in rehab, an unwanted pregnancy, a mom–turned–media personality (“Mother Courage”), and a workplace with a bio-dome housing a perfectly engineered cornfield, it is at once a scathing satire and a moving meditation on love and loneliness. With unusual verbal finesse and great humor, Sam Byers neatly skewers the tangled relationships and unhinged narcissism of a self-obsessed generation in a remarkable, uproarious first novel.

What did I think?:

This is the May read for The Waterstones Eleven debut authors, please see my previous post HERE. The tag line for this story is that it is “a novel of love, narcissism and ailing cattle,” which actually sums it up quite well! On starting, I really wasn’t sure if I was going to like it, as all the characters are quite awful to each other, and it’s written in quite an original style. The author focuses on three main characters – Katherine and Daniel, who used to be a couple but have broken up, and Nathan their friend, who has spent a year in a psychiatric unit and is back home living with his parents. His mother has used his mental state to re-invent herself as an author – “Mother Courage,” telling the world how she copes with such a wayward son. Katherine is single and full of bitterness at men, and at the world in general. She sleeps with a few different men but has not been able to find happiness (or even care about finding happiness). Daniel is in a new relationship with a girl who he’s not really sure if he loves, but has to continue saying he loves her, for fear of being alone and that he might actually love her. Make sense?

The book has a few different quirks, and once I got used to the style, I did enjoy it, and when Nathan comes back into Katherine and Daniel’s lives, we begin to see how toxic their former relationship really was. The author writes about their arguments in such a way that the reader feels almost like a guilty onlooker, with many cringe-worthy moments. It’s very hard to like Katherine or Daniel as characters, especially Katherine, who seems to be spiteful and full of hatred, angry at everyone and everything, although at the end, I did feel quite sorry for her, as her true loneliness came across.

Oh yes, and the news stations are going mad across the country because all the cows are staring off into the distance, not moving, and clearly ill. There is a very funny moment at the end involving a cow called Mavis, a hippy, and a fairly quiet suburban street, which is probably not the best mixture! I found the book quite humorous throughout, and although I didn’t love it, I definitely think Sam Byers is a debut author to watch out for.

Would I recommend it?:


Star rating (out of 5):

3 Star Rating Clip Art

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