Author of A Tale For The Time Being and A Year Of Meats, Ruth Ozeki is back with an epic tome that very much allow you to think of books in their purpose; The Book of Form and Emptiness is a bold, poignant, humane and exploratory novel that will pull you in with it’s voices and narrative.
After the tragic death of his beloved musician father, fourteen-year-old Benny Oh begins to hear voices. The voices belong to items in his house – a sneaker, a broken Christmas ornament, a piece of wilted lettuce. Although Benny doesn’t understand what these things are saying, he can sense their emotional tone; some are pleasant but others are snide, angry and full of pain. When his mother develops a hoarding problem, the voices grow more clamorous, and his need to leave the house becomes obvious.
At first Benny tries to ignore them, but soon the voices follow him outside the house, onto the street and at school, driving him to finally refuge in the silence of a large public library, where objects are seemingly well-behaved and know to speak in whispers. There, Benny discovers a strange new world, where ‘things happen’. He falls in love with a mesmerising street artist with a smug pet ferret, who uses the library as her performance space. He meets a homeless philosopher-poet, who encourages him to ask important questions and find his own voice amongst the many.
However, he also encounters his very own Book – a talking thing – who narrates Benny’s life and teaches him to listen to the things that truly matter. Much of the story is told through the perspective of the book, which has it’s own humour but mostly allows us to think about the purpose that books do hold. The majestic library is often a source of solace and hiding for Benny, which also employs the pivotal, heartfelt and ground-breaking Croy.
With its blend of sympathetic characters, exploration of human feelings, considering loss and grief at the core of the novel The Book of Form and Emptiness is a significant, yet classic Ruth Ozeki – bold and wise and yet playful with wordplay. I dare you to pick up this tome and not be won over by the characters and the library.
The Book of Form and Emptiness is out now, published by Canongate