Submarine – Joe Dunthorne [And Film Review]

Synopsis from Goodreads.

The dryly precocious, soon-to-be-fifteen-year-old hero of this engagingly offbeat debut novel, Oliver Tate lives in the seaside town of Swansea, Wales. At once a self-styled social scientist, a spy in the baffling adult world surrounding him, and a budding, hormone-driven emotional explorer, Oliver is stealthily (and perhaps a bit more nervously than he’d ever admit) nosing his way forward through the murky and uniquely perilous waters of adolescence. His objectives? Uncovering the secrets behind his parents’ teetering marriage, unraveling the mystery that is his alluring and equally quirky classmate Jordana Bevan, and understanding where he fits in among the pansexuals, Zoroastrians, and other mystifying, fascinating beings in his orbit.

Ever wondered what it would be like if Wes Anderson got drunk on vodka and watched the entire box set of The Inbetweeners in one night?

Reader meet Submarine. Submarine meet reader.

Aah, and herein lies the conundrum.
For I really dislike The Inbetweeners (I know, I know… I have received many a horrified glare when I have divulged this information. I just don’t find it funny because I’m a horrible, stuffy prude) but I adore Wes Anderson.
This could have gone either way and I think I knew this risk before I started this book. I am nothing if not a risk taker.

So, let’s see shall we?
Did I enjoy this book?
Very much so.
Did I laugh at this book?
I barked like a seal a few times, so yes, again… very much so.
Is it a bit vile and vulgar and is there lots of graphic sex and fumblings?
Ho yes.

Considering I only read this book so I had something to talk to Richard Ayoade about (I’m kidding. Our imaginary conversations would be about lots of excellent things from films to music, to whether it would make him uncomfortable if I touched his hair), I really, really enjoyed it.
I like to call books like these “It got dark” books; meaning you pick it up in the afternoon and you read…and read….and read and then the next time you look up well, um, it got dark.
This is exactly what happened with Submarine.
My inhaling reading of Mr Dunthorne’s debut was only hindered occasionally by me stopping to jot down some of my favourite quotes and then pick up my phone so I could text them to my sister.

I battled (well ok, maybe battled is getting a bit giddy) with the decision to whether I should class this as young adult. I know that just because a book has a fifteen year old protagonist doesn’t automatically make it a young adult book. Like I said before, this book has lots and lots of awkward sexual shenanigans in and frank discussions about things that might not be to everyone’s liking. So if you’re put off by that, maybe give this book a miss or at least approach with caution.
But, even though people might argue with me saying it’s not a young adult book, I believe if an author writes a book where there is a fifteen year old narrator and it’s a realistic portrayal (which I personally feel Mr Dunthorne managed brilliantly), then why shouldn’t a fifteen year old pick the book up?

Plus, classing this book as YA would make it infinitely cooler because YA fiction is all the rage right now and all the indie kids read it and pretend they liked it before it got famous.
(FYI, we hard core YAddicts read Hunger Games before it was cool)
It’s kind of like I’m doing Mr D a favour reviewing this on a YA blog. I’m sure he appreciates it.


Anyway, I loved Oliver. I’d probably hate him if I met him in real life, though. If we had gone to high school with each other I would have watched him cautiously from behind my ill-advised fringe and think that he was odd and trouble. He’d be the kind of guy I’d cross the road to avoid passing… but I’d be intrigued by him.
I understand that that probably says more about me than Oliver, but that’s kind of how I felt about him in this book. I wouldn’t say I necessarily liked him as a character, but he was a brilliant narrator. I loved seeing the world through his warped-tinted spectacles.

Some of my favourite Oliver quotes, which I have realised won’t be funny out of context:

[On pocket-sized Encyclopaedias] “It would only fit in a pocket that was specially designed.”

“I slam my fist on to the table to no effect. It’s made of stone.”

“I would never say snog. I would say osculate.”

[On condoms] “The smell nothing like a positive first sexual experience.”

I find that a book like this is incredibly difficult to describe why it’s funny to people because if you don’t find it funny, then no matter how many times I say “specially designed pockets” and cackle, you will still look at me blankly and wonder why we are friends.
But I laughed.

I don’t really want to go into the story because, if I’m honest, there’s not that much of a story. It’s about a boy growing up in South Wales where things aren’t always peachy and the boy observes them with dry humour.

The only gripe I had with this book is that I wish certain parts had been explored more in depth. There were some things that seemed to either get overwhelmed by Oliver’s personality/narration, mentioned a few times and then forgotten about or, at the end, solved and wrapped up in a neat bow.

Theme Tune.
Hiding Tonight by Alex Turner. 

It’s like this song was written for this story.

Heh… heh….
Actually, that um… joke would have been funnier if this song had been written for this story. But, it’s not true because I think Mr Turner wrote these songs before the film soundtrack, so I’m not just unfunny; I’m also a liar.
I couldn’t find the perfect song for this book but I love this song and… wait, why am I even justifying myself? It’s Alex Bloody Turner.

Also um… with regards to Welsh Week. I’m… um, sure that the Arctic Monkeys are from Sheffield which is in England which is part of the UK along wiiiiiiiith….. Wales!
Also, I’m sure they played in Wales at some point and really enjoyed it.


I really enjoyed this book but I know that it won’t be for everyone. It’s clever, it’s witty, it’s occasionally vulgar and it’s definitely a hipster’s paradise (which is nothing like a gangsta’s paradise… something I found out recently. But that’s another story for another time.)

I’ll let you make up your own mind whether that’s a good thing or not.

AND! That’s not all I have for you today because I have an extra special guest on my blog today who will be reviewing the film version of Submarine.
It is my greatest pleasure to introduce you to Rachel, my sister.


Firstly, thank you to my dear hermana for letting me impose myself on her blog. (About time). Secondly, I must confess that I have not read the book and so any opposition that may arise are completely unbalanced. Just like my sister and I, no doubt.

Just like Dunthorne used Submarine to introduce himself to the literary world, Richard Ayoade, the bespectacled wonder who has long reigned over cult TV geekdom, broke his directing virginity with this film adaptation in 2010. While the defining features of his on screen persona include a fear of oranges, human interaction and the female species*, behind the camera Ayoade is transformed, presenting a heartfelt, comedy drama and an awkward leg-crossing homage to the world of a young boy in love.

Oliver Tate, played by newcomer – and Welshie – Craig Roberts, is a cinephile in the very best way, residing in a bedroom adorned with pencil sketches of Woody Allen, whose love for all things gabardine and vintage and literary could stir the coolest of girl’s loins if only he wasn’t so strange. Yes I am aware he is only about 15 but you get my point. He is the boy next door, the slightly odd boy next door but an intriguing boy next door nonetheless. You want to be friends with him and go on wonderful sepia toned adventures on the beach. But this would mean you’d have to spend time with his equally disillusioned but rather more streetsmart classmate, Jordana Bevan (Yasmin Paige). This girl is awesome. But so is her fringe. And as a woman who has a love/hate relationship with her own high density fringe, I try and avoid mixing with other befringed folk. Especially if it’s raining.

Our protagonists are the epitome of old souls, preferring to see the world through a cinematic past rather than a reality that would force them to admit the pains of adult life. Oliver is torn between concerns for his parent’s marriage and his own burgeoning feelings for Jordana both in his heart and in his downtown areas. And Jordana is just an enigma shrouded in a mystery that poor Oliver is determined to solve…With a who’s-who of British indie talent providing the adult cast, Submarine creates a perfect opposition between the two worlds of children and adults or rather to use a more sexy metaphor, red silk sheets and back-seat love-ins…

Submarine is a testament to the best of British, whether it be our sense of humour or cynicism or even our landscapes, our actors, our writers or our musicians (see the awesomely suited original soundtrack by Alex Turner). Although eyes open for a cameo by Ben Stiller who ‘presented’ the film.

Returning to my hermana’s opening statement about The Inbetweeners comparison, I have to disagree. Yes Submarine is gritty, and too real to want to admit, but behind each frame here is a tender sadness as we realise teenagers must enjoy the frivolities of love and their loins alongside the impending realities of the adult world. And even the cheapest vodka won’t let you forget that. Believe me…

*A little visual to help you imagine Richard Ayoade and his sweet moves.


Me again!
My sister and I exchanged a few texts about the two because I’ve not seen the film (yet) and she’s not read the book (yet). Here is the transcript:*

J: Um, what? You didn’t get the Inbetweeners vibe? And Woody Allen? He’s never mentioned EVER.
R: No, not at all. It was a very beautiful film about tenderness, love and things. Inbetweeners is vile and disgusting and absolutely brilliant. And… what? He loves the Allen!
J: I forgot you liked the Inbetweeners. Sigh. OK, but what about the bit when [blank] and [blank] and then the bit where he [blank] her on the rug.
R: …. what?!
J: Yeah and then he when he [blank] in the theatre and [blank] and then she [blank] with a [blank].…and  [blank].
J: I know, right?
J: Also, did you notice that we both mentioned our fringes in our reviews? Does that mean something?
J: Except that we’re awesome but have unfortunate hair on rainy days?
J: Rach? You still here?
J: Rach? Are you watching IT Crowd episodes again?

An absolute huge thank you to my wonderful sister for writing such a brilliant film review. It’s an absolute pleasure to (finally) get her on here!

If you’re interested in more of Rachel’s film reviews, you can find them on her site: ilovefilmdoyou?
Also, she is always on Twitter. You should follow her.
She always finds herself into ridiculous situations that will entertain you endlessly.

*May not be an exact transcript.

Fun Welsh Word of the Day!

Janglo = Chatting

Pronunciation: Pretty much what it says on the tin. But isn’t it a fun word to say?! Janglooo.

5 thoughts on “Submarine – Joe Dunthorne [And Film Review]

  1. I wish I could trust my sister to do a guest post on my blog. Alas, no. Anyway, I loved this book, not so much the film. It's been a while since I read it, but I seem to remember there were a few anti-climaxes (is this a word?) and bits that dragged on without that much happening, but good old Oliver and his odd bod behaviour made up for it all.
    The film was ok – looked beautiful, great soundtrack, but I think I would have enjoyed it more if I hadn't read the book. Had issues with the parents in the film. I'll shut up now, for fear of revealing spoilers.
    Great post Jo and Rachel! x

  2. @ Catie- Thanks love, I'll see if I can rope her into a few more. ;)

    @ Anna – Oooh, you have me intrigued now. I'm planning on watching the film soon so I'll send you an e-mail with all my intelligent and intellectual thoughts. I can definitely see where you're coming one with the anti-climaxes (yeah, sure, that's a word) .. I kind of wanted the ending to have more 'OOOMPH' to it! But Oliver was just brilliant. So funny. :)

  3. I loved the film of this but didn't realise until I started watching it that it's based on a book. I now need to wait ten years, forget about the film and then read the book…. I can't do it while the films still in my head unfortunately!

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