I was really looking forward to reading The Echo Chamber, having very much enjoyed previous books by John Boyne. But I have mixed feelings. On the one hand, I liked that it’s a cutting and very funny satire on our obsession with social media. On the other, the characters were very much caricatures – which I get is the point – but this made it hard to feel engaged with the story.
The problem with social media
I watched an eye-opening documentary on Netflix – The Social Dilemma – which highlighted how much social media can infiltrate lives and influence thinking. SO it absolutely is a worry – the amount of power social media companies have over our lives. Most people will have fallen prey to its addictive nature and in The Echo Chamber, extreme scenarios are given the satirical treatment.
We meet the Cleverly family: ageing TV presenter George, his novelist wife Beverly and their three grown up children (aged 17 to early 20s) – Nelson, Elizabeth and Achilles. All are morally dubious and obsessed with all forms of social media. Their phones are utilised for trolling, dating, activism, blackmailing, promoting and pretending.
How woke is too woke?
Hand-in-hand with the theme of the evils of social media comes the other theme that The Echo Chambers dissects: the notion of ‘wokeness’. Dictionary definition: a state of being aware, especially of social problems such as racism and inequality.
George gets in trouble for a tweet he makes about a trans person. Interestingly, this can be read as a response to the criticism John Boyne received about his book My Brother’s Name is Jessica. He even deleted his Twitter account at the time due to the backlash.
So, while the plot of The Echo Chamber defintiely makes a point about the unchecked dangers of social media, the thing that gave me mixed feelings while reading was that, for want of a better word, it felt a bit ranty. The characters – especially the secondary ones – felt like such extreme caricatures, that you weren’t going to empathise with them, which, I know is not the point of satire but it was maybe unusual here as John Boyne is known for his nuanced characters. Even the unpleasant ones, like Maurice Swift in A Ladder to the Sky, still kept me captivated.
That’s just my take on it – I’d be interested to know what you think if you’ve read The Echo Chamber?
- Thank you to NetGalley for the ARC;
- Get your copy of The Echo Chamber here;
- Published by Headline 22nd July 2021;
- 432 pages;
- My rating: