Idiopathy – Sam Byers

Cow wallpaper, Andy Warhol

Idiopathy was shortlisted for the Costa Book Award in 2013.  It’s a comedy of manners with some crazy ideas, and really did make me laugh.

The central characters in Idiopathy are estranged partners Katharine and Daniel. Katherine, now single, endures a string of unfulfilling relationships due to her inability to commit, and a cynical and sometimes cruel approach to her partners.  She has sex without being able to develop close relationships, and at times without feeling in frustration at the emptiness of life.  Daniel has moved on to another relationship with Angelica, who doesn’t offer the same kind of excitement as Katherine.  She is much softer, but perhaps too emotional.  Angelica’s sentimentality is the opposite of Katherine’s intelligent cynicism, and Daniel sees it as shallow and meaningless.  They socialise with other pairs of lovers, all ostensibly in perfect loving relationships, but Daniel knows that he is only going through the motions.

To make matters worse Angelica’s politically correct, hippy friend Sebastian is an animal rights activist: Daniel meanwhile is working in an experimental lab – something to do with cows – and this conflict is a source of quite a lot of the humour in the novel.  A third major character, Nathan, returning from rehab to live with his mother, brings these two characters together again.  Nathan needs support – his mother makes a living blogging heroically about his difficult childhood and her brilliant strategies for coping – but are Katherine and Daniel able to be there for him, and what will happen when they meet again?

Amazon: Idiopathy – Sam Byers

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