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Idiopathy Paperback – 30 Jan 2014

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Product details

  • Paperback: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Fourth Estate (30 Jan. 2014)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 000741210X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0007412105
  • Product Dimensions: 19.9 x 2.3 x 12.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 2.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (25 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 226,639 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Sam Byers was born in 1979. Idiopathy is his first novel. It has been chosen for the Waterstones 11, the annual shortlist of the book chain's favourite fiction debuts.

Product Description

Review

‘A savagely brilliant novel … Brimming with comic brio and nuanced psychological insight, ‘Idiopathy’ signals the arrival of an exciting new talent … If ‘Idiopathy’ was half as fun to write as it is to read I suspect Mr Byers found some happiness along the way.’ David Annand, Sunday Telegraph

‘Brilliant … a mordantly riveting first novel about what it's like to be a thirtysomething.’ John Lanchester, Observer

‘Laced with satirical verve . . . this is a savagely funny debut from a gifted, cynical new voice.’ Joseph Charlton, FT

‘Will make you purr with delight. It’s well observed, light on its feet and never less than entertaining, with elegant ruminations on sex, love and loneliness that offset by some sublime comic riffs on the state of the nation.’ Sebastian Shakespeare, Tatler

‘Scabrously funny, beadily vigilant and often piercingly perceptive … it’s hard to fault the enthusiasm with which Byers goes about his task, or the vicious wit he brings to it.’ Trevor Lewis, Sunday Times

‘Page by page, an almost indecently entertaining book. Byers goes beyond being merely a talented comic novelist … insights bring the deeper laughs – and they are what allow him to turn the corner, as the novel reaches its climax, into something altogether more poignant and more serious.’ Sam Leith, TLS

‘Brimming with comic brio and nuanced psychological insight , Sam Byers’s first novel, “Idiopathy”, signals the arrival of a new talent.’ Telegraph

‘Even as Idiopathy threatens to become an emotional abattoir, Byers’s prose remains spreadsheet-specific, mock analytical, funny . . . [Byers] has taken a laudable risk in turning his Bovarys bovine and Kareninas sheepish.’ Joshua Cohen, The New York Times Book Review

‘Byers has a quicksilver prose style and an easy, unlabored way of getting his point across . . . A sad, poignant and funny debut, deeply relatable and replete with promise for the author’s future.’ Time Out New York (4 out of 5 stars)

About the Author

Sam Byers was born in 1979. Idiopathy is his first novel. It has been chosen for the Waterstones 11, the annual shortlist of the book chain’s favourite fiction debuts.


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Customer Reviews

2.8 out of 5 stars

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Paul Bowes TOP 500 REVIEWER on 23 Jun. 2013
Format: Hardcover
'Idiopathy' is primarily a character study, with gestures in the direction of being an oblique portrait of a generation. It's in this sense that the medical term 'idiopathy' - a condition that arises spontaneously or from an unknown cause - is germane.

The three central characters, each in a different way, are failing to cope. Daniel has settled for a relationship that may be not just second-best but actively hollow. Katherine, Daniel's former partner, is possessed by rage and helpless in the face of a perverse instinct to sabotage her own, and everybody else's happiness. Their friend Nathan, newly emerged from institutional care, is struggling to find a viable way of being that doesn't end in self-harm. All three have parents who are variously absent, self-absorbed or actively toxic. In the background, a new disease of cattle is causing increasing disquiet.

Sam Byers has been extensively praised for this first novel, and it's easy to see why. He can create complex, believable characters - a skill that many more experienced writers have yet to master. (Katherine in particular is wonderfully drawn, but even the minor figures are clearly characterised and memorable.) He can write sharp dialogue. He can handle comedy and satire without resorting to cartoon-like exaggeration. He's intelligent enough to understand that a good fictional experience doesn't depend on the reader liking the central characters: there are several memorable monsters here, and Byers is particularly good on the seemingly endless capacity of human beings for hypocrisy, moral cowardice and lack of self-awareness. In 'Idiopathy' all these strengths are displayed.

He also has faults. His structural sense is much less acute than his feeling for character and his grasp of psychology.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Sue Kichenside TOP 500 REVIEWER on 24 April 2013
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
The book opens with Katherine. She pines for her 'ex' Daniel with whom she shared a long relationship of mutually-dependent argumentativeness and her whip-smart wit quite takes your breath away. Daniel meanwhile is in a new relationship with the touchy-feely, aptly named Angelica with whom he pretends to be in love. Deeply troubled Nathan, a friend of Katherine and Daniel's from when they were a couple, has recently returned from an 18-month absence. When the three of them get together for the inevitable reunion, you can safely assume that sparks are going to fly.

Idiopathy is initially very funny. In the opening chapter, Katherine's current 'squeeze' has bought her a vibrator as a present, gift-wrapped and everything. She buries it in a pile of old books along with Daniel's old shirts and donates the lot to her local charity shop. Never seeing the vibrator for sale, Katherine wonders what has become of it. "She liked to think one of the elderly volunteers had taken it home and subjected herself to an experience so revelatory as to border on the mystical."

But quite soon the humour turns decidedly caustic and Katherine's attempts to verbally shock become ever more brutal. Although I sympathised with her because she is clearly so sad and lonely, towards the end I just wanted to shake her. This is a very well-written debut by Sam Byers who knows how to do thirtysomething angst convincingly. But there is an air of claustrophobia to the book which opens out only to include rather a 'red-herring' of a sub-plot about militant environmentalism. Its narrative arc is more of a slight bend but, having said that, it's seriously funny.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By K. J. Noyes TOP 100 REVIEWER on 9 July 2014
Format: Audio Download
I really don't know what to say about this...

I liked some of it, hated some of it, felt no empathy for any character. Which sometimes was what I felt the author wanted, and sometimes left me thinking I should stop.

This isn't the first time I've tried out a book on the strength of its inclusion in the Costa shortlist (or because the cover intrigued). This was one I finished and felt very little either way about. It's not a 'winner' for me, but it did have interesting elements.

It's about two people whose relationship ended a year ago, and their friend who has recently finished a stint in therapy for self-harm. None were particularly sympathetic for me, and Katherine the least so. Vitriolic, bitter, twisted in her evil delight in manipulating others, she's sometimes deliciously sick, at other times neck-wringingly painful to follow. The arguments detailed between her and former partner Daniel were some of the most excruciating scenes I've ever read through in a book.

Not huge amounts happen - Daniel has a new relationship, Katherine starts several affairs, Nathan tries to get in touch with his old friends. Somehow mad cows come into it (though I tried and tried to see how this was relevant to the story or needed). While mad cow disease in the book may be 'of unknown origin' (idiopathic), I just found this book didn't hit the high I sometimes saw signs of.

At times I found this funny, at others I just couldn't see the point. Glad I tried it, but it will only stick in my mind for the unbelievable arguments described (though well-written).

On a positive note, I read this as an audio-book and enjoyed the narrator's style and execution. She made it easy to listen to.
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