Review – blueeyedboy by Joanne Harris

Format: Hardback 416 pages




My Rating = A* best read so far this year!


It was with great trepidation that I embarked on this literary voyage as I had glanced at a few not so favourable reviews (will I ever learn??). Anyway, better to get this out of the way at the beginning – there is no chocolate, no magic, no wine, no fruit except for some rotten fruit juice. I have no doubt that Joanne Harris is ever so slightly ticked off by folk expecting her to continue writing in the same French pastoral vein but I really admire her for exploring much darker territory in her latest novel although I suspect that the story found her rather than vice-versa.

I have read and loved all of her novels/short stories with the exception of Sleep Pale Sister which is waiting patiently on my bookshelves. The Evil Seed was the only one which failed to impress but I think that was just a case of the publisher reissuing her very first writing for a quick buck.

So, is this a complete lane-change for Ms Harris? Not exactly, as she paved the way with Gentlemen and Players which is set in the same fictional Northern village of Malbry. However, this is a much darker tale with layers of secrets and lies – if Chocolat was Dairy Milk then this is Green and Black’s Espresso Dark Chocolate. Our anti-hero, B.B., is a 42 year old janitor at the local hospital. He still lives with his controlling (to put it mildly..) mother and spends most of his time online on his site badguysrock which seems to be a haven for social rejects with a taste for violence.

This is a modern version of the epistolary novel and it reminded me of its ancestor, Liaisons Dangereuses, especially as we again have two unreliable, unappealing narrators, B.B and Albertine who communicate their thoughts, stories via posts on badguysrock and their own personal web journals. One of the strongest themes here is that of identity and how the boundaries between virtual and real life become so blurred as to become interchangeable so even the narrators themselves are unsure as to what’s fiction and what’s reality and yes, the reader does have a hard job working that out too! We’re never sure whether B.B’s crowing about the murders he’s supposedly committed is just a facade. Just as, on the internet, we are never sure about the true identies of those we communicate with on a daily basis.

None of the characters are likeable. BB’s family is a dysfunctional mess, his cronies on badguysrock are social outcasts, even Albertine (reminscent of Proust’s character) is not the little Red Riding Hood figure we might imagine. Even the little blind girl, whose murder is at the core of this tale, is living a false life – smoke and mirrors aplenty!

Although we don’t have the obvious foodie motifs here, there are plenty of sensations at play, the most intriguing of these being synaesthesia, a neurological condition where the senses overlap. BB has the olfactory/gustatory type whereby he experiences people and places as colours, smells and tastes. Emily, the little blind girl appears to be a synaesthete also but she seems to experience music as colours. Again, we’re reminded that our senses can fool us and we need to be on our guard. Indeed there is creeping air of tension throughout the whole book – it’s very subtle but it’s very unsettling for the reader. I must say that I loved the whole unsettling process! It’s very refreshing to not have everything set out in black and white and handed to you on a plate but to come to your own conclusions whilst being thrown the occasional red herring, or is that just your mind playing tricks on you…

So, if you like tidy, linear stories with happy endings this is most certainly not for you. This is the second novel I’ve read this year which has marked a very different change of tack for the writer, the first of those being The Little Stranger by Sarah Waters which disturbed some of her fans as Ms Waters didn’t simply throw on previously worn narrative threads. I loved The Little Stranger on its own merits, nothing to do with previous novels and surely that’s how it should be and I am delighted to report that I found blueeyedboy equally gripping. Definitely an A* from me.

PS if you are interested in reading more about synaesthesia I would highly recommend Astonishing Splashes of Colour, an excellent novel by Clare Morall and in non-fiction, Born on a Blue Day by Daniel Tammet – both fascinating and highly enlightening reads.

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  1. Iris says:

    I often find it hard to relate and enjoy stories that involve unlikeable characters, but I think if the story is written very well it might work. I don’t think I’ll pick this book up soon, as I think people in general feel other books by Harris are better and I’ve only ever read Chocolat. But this was an interesting review nonetheless. I had never heard of synaesthesia.

  2. admin says:

    I don’t think it will have the mass appeal of Chocolat and the Lollipop Shoes. I think I’m just odd in that I seem to like such an eclectic mix of books. If this one had been gory I would have hated it but it is more subtle than that, very devious and twisted – makes me think of Joanne Harris in a totally new light…or is that dark!! ;-)

  3. Verity says:

    I am intrigued by this; it sounds really different from her other books. I liked Chocolat well enough but none of the others have especially appealed.

    And I am a big fan of Clare Morrall and Astonishing Splashes of colour too – which is perhap why this one appeals to me.

  4. admin says:

    It is quite an unsettlling book, Verity – for some reason it reminded me a little of Notes on a Scandal by Zoe Heller (made into a fabulous film starring Judi Dench), the ressemblance being that the characters are also very unappealing yet engrossing and you somehow end up feeling slightly sorry for them.

  5. admin says:

    Oh, I meant to add that one of my bookish friends, Liz, reminded me that I have another synaesthesia related book on my shelves, Breathing in Colour by Clare Jay – another one to move up the TBR pile! Thank you for the reminder, Liz. :-)

  6. Nymeth says:

    I’ve yet to read any Joanna Harris, but this definitely appeals to me – especially how you called it a modern version of an epistolary novel!

    And I actually got myself a copy of Astonishing Splashes of Colour quite recently – I’m moving it up the priority list.

  7. I’ve heard of Joanne Harris before, but I haven’t read her. I actually think that it really depends on the reader whether characters are truly unlikeable. I tend to like the ones no-one else does and then I start to get really protective of them. I’ve added to book to my list. I’ll see of my library has a copy and I’ll let you know whether the characters truly are unlikeable. :)

  8. admin says:

    I guess likeability is in the eye of the beholder, Susi but some characters can be really hard-going especially serial killers with no particularly redeeming features! It can depend very much on the age/experience of the reader too – when I read American Psycho by Bret Easton Ellis, I was 26 and fancy-free – 19 years and two children on, the very thought of that book makes my skin creep and I couldn’t bear to even have it in the house!!

    Admittedly, flawed characters are much more interesting than paragons of virtue.

  9. I bought this one the other week, and I think I shall enjoy it. My favourite of her read so far was 5 quarters of the orange.

  10. admin says:

    Hi Annabel, thanks for dropping by! Hope you enjoy it as much as I did.

  11. Bruno says:

    Great review Treez and yes, you are lovely! I’m a big fan of Joanne’s & will be reading Blue Eyed Boy v. soon. Love the site, will be back soon.

  12. admin says:

    Why thank you, Bruno, I hope you enjoy blueeyedboy as much as I did. Thank you for your comment. :-)

  13. [...] I loved the whole unsettling process! Lovely Treez Reads [...]

  14. [...] This is a guest post from our book blogging friend Lovely Treez. The original post can be found on her site  Lovely Treez Reads. [...]

  15. [...] This is a guest post from our book blogging friend Lovely Treez. The original post can be found on her site  Lovely Treez Reads. [...]

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