Tag Archives: Sam Byers

A disease of its own kind: Idiopathy by Sam Byers


“The mechanism of their conversation ran down. They nibbled and stared and looked about them until one of them could wind it back up. It was oddly comfortable. Silence had never been an issue between them. It was all the things they said that were the problem.”

Well, this is a turn up for the books. A whip-sharp satire, cynical, wonderfully clever with a perfectly precise, almost clinical tone, this novel reads like a big hard eye-roll at humanity. Naturally I love it. Humanity is the worst.

Katherine is angry, cynical and hates herself and everyone around her. She and Daniel used to be together but now Daniel is with Angelica, an urban middle class hippie who claims to be constantly “working on” things like not thinking too much and being more spontaneous. Daniel is a PR executive for a research facility heavily invested in GM crop research much to the dismay of Angelica’s activist friends. Their mutual friend Daniel has just got back from a stint in rehab to discover his mum has become a published author trading off his own psychological distress and has found internet fame assuring mothers everywhere they aren’t to blame for their children’s failures under the handle Mother Courage.  In one delicious scene Nathan buys every copy of her book available in a local bookshop (with his parents’ credit card), tears them all up and tosses their remains in the river while speaking to her over the phone.

Having not seen each other for a year or so, the three of them get together to welcome Nathan back into the real world. However, these are all fairly horrible people under a significant amount of personal stress. Hilarity ensues.

Daniel tipped some cylindrical shapes of reconstitued potato into a salad bowl, stuffed a handful in his mouth, and then ambled around the kitchen enjoying a brief mental image of twisting a corkscrew into Katherine’s head and uncorking her brain, at which point he realised he’d somehow managed to locate a corckscrew and uncork a bottle of red without any conscious engagement whatsoever. This was how murder happened, he thought, looking at the open bottle. There you were, ambling around your kitchen looking for something, and the next thing you knew an hour had vanished from your life and you’d fashioned a necklace from the ears of the dead.

This is a great novel, an easy, quick read and really very funny. Its humour is dark and the subject matter absolutely relevant. It is almost a perfect study of narcissism, full of fantastic quips and 30-something ennui. But it isn’t too cool for school, Byers’ structures the novel beautifully, bringing all his characters together in one final, hilarious/disastrous scene. I confess it did lose me a bit half way through but that final scene won me right back over.  Someone, somewhere wants the film rights to this, or at least they should.

Idiopathy by Sam Byers: three and a half stars.

Read it if: you’re feeling pretty cynical yourself, you’re after a good laugh, you have a dark sense of humour.

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