To a hoary old bookworm like me, it's a beautiful feeling to pick up a book with no real prior knowledge, and be completely enamoured and enchanted as the last page is turned. It's an epiphany, a discovery, and almost like love.
My first experience with Scarlett Thomas was picking up 'The End of Mr. Y', which looked interesting enough, with its black-lined pages, recommendation by Philip Pullman, and the promise of philosophy, metaphysics, curses & supersitions, quantum physics, time-travel and sex (I mean, with promises like that, who could resist, right?), but when I finished the book, I was so impressed, amazed and enchanted, that I knew I must find more.
With "Going Out", however, while it may be a different subject, and an earlier work, I felt that Scarlett Thomas had written the book with me in mind. The locations, characters, and the situations that they find themselves in really struck a chord that I haven't felt in a long time. Maybe it is because in 2000, the year the book was set in, I was at roughly the same age as the characters. I live in South Essex, where the book was set, and know a lot of the locations (There is a pub called 'The Rising Sun' in Billericay, although I don't know if that's where Scarlett Thomas based her pub on...), and I could see various aspects of my own life, and the lives of my friends, reflected in the characters of the novel.
There is no doubt that Scarlett writes with a lot of heart. The plot may not be a 'Da Vinci Code' rollercoaster of thrills and excitement, but each character stands out so strongly that they were practically tangible. Luke, the main character, suffers with XP, a rare skin disease that causes a potentially fatal allergy if he is exposed to the sun. He is portrayed as having a slight American accent, and cannot read a story without having references from the TV to help him imagine scenarios. Everything outside his house, as far as he's concerned, looks like a Hollywood sit-com. Scarlett reinforces this several times in the book by displaying to the reader that Luke simply does not know any other lifestyle, and has no other point of reference.
Another thing that Scarlett Thomas does (and it is a great relief to say this), is to eschew the stereotype of the Essex Girl, and she does this vehemently. One of the lesser (but still important & relevant) characters, Chantal, is a Basildon girl who has won the lottery. - Chantal is shy, sweet, and caring. She has known poverty and embarassement, and is charming and likeable. (If she had been a brash outgoing promiscuous single mother, I probably would have put the book down), but it is a refreshing and perfect example of how Scarlett Thomas writes about characters for who they are, irrespective of whether the reader expects them to behave or speak in a certain way.
In short, a wonderful novel, with heavy & self-referencing nods to the Wizard of Oz, with real, believable and wonderul characters, a real dollop of humour, and a message that stays with the reader once the book is finished...
...I think I'm in love.