Book review: The Echo Chamber by John Boyne

the echo chamber john boyneThe Echo Chamber features a deeply unappealing family whose life is upended by their addiction to celebrity culture and, in part, social media. George Cleverley is a smug TV interviewer and self-professed national treasure. His wife, Beverley, is a popular romance author who has ghosts write all her books. Their children are Nelson, an anxious fantasist, Elizabeth, who is obsessed with finding social media fame, and Achilles, who while still at school has used his charm to lucrative effect as a blackmailer.

They wend their way through the usual pop-culture targets – reality TV, influencers, affairs, anxiety, and as they each land themselves in ever deeper trouble, their stories cross over and loop back on one another. This comedy of errors element is perhaps the best thing about The Echo Chamber, highlighting the confined, narcissistic circle they move in.

Each family member has their own storyline, but the key one is an offensive tweet sent by George. It’s never quite clear whether George was thoughtless or deliberately set out to offend (although there was a conversation shortly before said tweet which leads the reader to infer he knew what he was doing).

The tweet sets off a whirlwind of offence and has a series of consequences. This combines with the various dramas of the other family members to bring the story to its climax.

The Echo Chamber is an easy-enough read but the targets feel too easy and predictable – woke Gen Z, oversexed reality stars, entitled BBC ‘talent’. There’s a recurring joke about young people not knowing any history which gets wearing. Some of the dialogue scenes go on far too long. The ending feels like a cop-out.

There are plenty of genre authors who have done a much better job of examining the nuances around social media, capturing both the absurdity and the dark, real-world consequences of public intrusion into private grief.

Literary authors tend to be slower to deliver their verdict on contemporary themes. What they lack in timeliness you expect them to make up for in originality and insight but that’s not much in evidence here. It’s more a mashup of a compendium of Dad jokes and the sidebar of shame on Mail Online.

I received a copy of The Echo Chamber from the publisher via Netgalley.
View The Echo Chamber on Goodreads

For some more interesting novels showing the impact of social media, try Viral by Helen FitzGerald, or check out my reviews of Conviction by Denise Mina and How to Kill Your Friends by Phil Kurthausen

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