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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Not my usual read but so glad I tried it out
Not my usual read, although Katherine could quite easily be a life sucking mythical creature if you screwed up your eyes a bit, my goodness she inspired true loathing, I wanted her to be real so I could throw something at her. Enjoyed it felt like I've thoroughly inhabited three carbon based life forms for the past three days and at times felt slightly sullied by their...
Published 11 months ago by Jo

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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Promising first novel with a great central character
'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...
Published 9 months ago by Paul Bowes


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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Promising first novel with a great central character, 23 Jun 2013
By 
Paul Bowes (Wales, United Kingdom) - See all my reviews
(TOP 500 REVIEWER)   
This review is from: Idiopathy (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. This lack manifests itself in different ways. For me, the weakest aspect of 'Idiopathy' was the plotting, which proceeds by fits and starts and culminates - if that's the term - in an anticlimax. Readers expecting much about cattle, unusual diseases thereof, or the sins of 'big food' are particularly likely to be disappointed: this is not the eco-novel that the cover and blurb might lead you to expect.

Older readers may notice what appears to be the excessive influence of R.D. Laing (of 'Knots' fame) on the endlessly ramifying analyses of contradictory and self-defeating thought processes: how much patience the individual reader will have with this will vary. There is a also a general tendency to a complacent sub-Jamesian elaboration of sentence structure that didn't add much to this reader's experience. Tougher editing would have disposed of this. At 310 pages, the book is probably fifty pages longer than it need be.

That said, 'Idiopathy' is serious, readable, amusing, perceptive about aspects of contemporary life, above the standard of most first novels, and at its best promises better to come.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Not my usual read but so glad I tried it out, 30 April 2013
This review is from: Idiopathy (Hardcover)
Not my usual read, although Katherine could quite easily be a life sucking mythical creature if you screwed up your eyes a bit, my goodness she inspired true loathing, I wanted her to be real so I could throw something at her. Enjoyed it felt like I've thoroughly inhabited three carbon based life forms for the past three days and at times felt slightly sullied by their thoughts!!!!
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Thirtysomething laughter and angst., 24 April 2013
By 
Sue Kichenside - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Idiopathy (Hardcover)
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
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent, 2 Sep 2013
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This review is from: Idiopathy (Hardcover)
Entertaining, poignant, hugely funny in parts and achingly bleak in others. A brilliant debut novel from a wonderfully talented writer.
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars An excellent debut, 27 May 2013
This review is from: Idiopathy (Hardcover)
`Idiopathy' is the debut novel by Sam Byers, described on its cover as `a novel of love, narcissism and ailing cattle'. It's a good tag line as it succinctly implies a lot of what you should expect from the novel - the focus on relationships, the at times savagely honest satire to be employed, and the slightly surreal edge that sweetens the pill.

The three principle characters are Katherine and Daniel (a former couple who have recently separated) and their friend Nathan who has just been discharged from a psychiatric ward. Daniel has moved on into a new relationship which is as politely middle-class as his relationship with Katherine was fractious. Katherine has retreated into bitterness and casual affairs. Nathan, in contrast, comes back into society to find that his mother has made herself into a media celebrity by writing books about `surviving' having an emotionally dysfunctional son. The three of them arrange to meet up again. It's no spoiler to say that it doesn't go well.

Byers' novel is a much more ambitious piece than it might at first appear. This is not just a comic novel about relationships, rather it is an attempt to examine the neuroses of the modern middle-class. The searches for ethical causes that are taken to extremes, the panic over BSE, the self-help culture and the refusal to accept responsibility for our actions are all exposed. But it's in the minutiae of relationships where Byers really scores. His description of Katherine and Daniel's arguments in all their self-justifying game-playing pettiness are so real that they'll make you squirm as much as much as they make you laugh, as will Nathan's relationship with his parents.

Many of the reviews have focused on how unpleasant Katherine is as a character. I certainly wouldn't argue with this assessment - she's harsh, cruel, emotionally manipulative and takes pleasure in making others as miserable as she is. But she's also in a lot of pain and is hiding behind this personality to conceal how lost she is. This for me means she may not be a nice character, but she's certainly a compelling one. Equally, the incident which triggered Nathan's admission to the psychiatric ward in other hands might feel misplaced in a comic novel, but Byers handles his material with a confidence and control that many more experienced writers would have been proud of.

`Idiopathy' is a strong and accomplished debut, and Byers has a real skill when it comes to revealing the absurdities of modern society. Highly recommended.
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1.0 out of 5 stars Dull, 15 April 2014
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This review is from: Idiopathy (Hardcover)
Dull, slow and predictable, based around a set of profoundly unlikeable and implausible characters. Is anyone quite as nasty as Katherine, as shallow as Daniel and as pathetic as Angelica? Nathan made sense, but thats all.

Found myself skipping chunks of dialogue as it clearly wasn't going anywhere, then dipping back in a paragraph or two later, before skipping again. I really wish I hadn't wasted my time on this book.

Its clear that some people love it, so maybe I've got it wrong, but I'm resenting having wasted time on this book which I could have used for something much more enjoyable, worthwhile, or just more fun.

Dull, dull, dull.
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3.0 out of 5 stars Not bad, 11 Mar 2014
This review is from: Idiopathy (Kindle Edition)
Very funny to start with but gradually became same old, same old. Not quite as good as The Independent would have you believe.
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1.0 out of 5 stars surprisingly weak, 17 Feb 2014
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This review is from: Idiopathy (Kindle Edition)
After A promising first 30 pages the characters are so weak clichéd and dreadful that it becomes unbearable. Shallow in extreme
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4.0 out of 5 stars An odd tale of wholly believable people, 18 Jan 2014
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This review is from: Idiopathy (Kindle Edition)
This one grew on me afterwards.Reading it felt a bit grimy at times and at others almost hilarious. I liked best the comments on the office environment and in particular the fire drill- magic! Like a good drink or a good meal this story satisfies you unexpectedly.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Sharp and well observed, 22 Sep 2013
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This review is from: Idiopathy (Kindle Edition)
Interesting read, good characters - not a book to be devoured in one go though - savour it in small chunks!
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Idiopathy by Sam Byers (Hardcover - 25 April 2013)
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