`Going Out' is one of Scarlett Thomas's earlier novels and is about the friendship between Luke, who has a rare allergy to sunlight, and Julie, an outsider who waitresses and attempts to complete complex maths puzzles in her spare time. Luke has become tired of a life confined to his bedroom and guarded by his overprotective mother and so when the opportunity to be `healed' appears to present itself, Julie, Luke and a few others decide to make a special road trip.
Just in case the reader wasn't aware, there are a number of clunky references to The Wizard of Oz which this book is clearly meant as a tribute to. However, I can forgive Scarlett Thomas almost anything because her novels are always so absorbing and full of ideas. If you've read The End of Mr Y or PopCo, you might find this a little `light' but all the familiar Thomas ingredients are there - she never disappoints.
Luke is 25 and (allegedly) allergic to the sun. He spends his life in his bedroom, surfing the internet, watching television (he has a particular empathy with the housemates on 'Big Brother' due to the fact they're trapped in a house) and sometimes reading. His main company - bar a few abortive affairs - comes from Julie, his best friend since both were about ten. Julie is highly intelligent, kind and efficient, and works out complicated mathematical problems for fun. But her growing fears of germs, travel accidents, disasters and most forms of food have stopped her going to university (she failed her A'Levels on purpose, losing her place at Oxford in the process), or leaving her home town. Instead, she's trapped, like Luke, in Windy Close, a cul de sac in a small Essex town - though at least Julie has a day job at local restaurant The Edge. It seems there's no way out for Luke and Julie - until the reappearance of Julie's former best friend Charlotte, Julie's growing friendship with David (assistant chef at The Edge), the collapse of Luke's on-off relationship with bad-tempered video-shop employee Lianne, and the arrival of Lianne's lottery-winning cousin Chantel to Windy Close herald a period of great change. And when Charlotte tells Luke and Julie of a mysterious healer than might cure them both, the friends head off down the B-roads of England to Wales...
I bought this on-spec in a charity shop, and was slightly anxious when I read that it was a reworking of 'The Wizard of Oz' (I'm neither keen on the book or the film, both of which I find sentimental). In fact, the 'Oz' references are only small, and Thomas's lovely novel seems to take the best of Baum's work, and leave out the slushier or nastier bits. This is a brilliant, wise and compassionate book about learning to conquer fear, and accepting who you are - a sort of 'self help book' for those like me who can't stand self-help books, which is also a brilliant, and very funny story. True, it's not completely believable if you regard it as a work of realism - but if you regard it as a sort of modern fable or parable (what Thomas intended, I think), it's a masterpiece.
And, in the framework of the modern fable, relationships are brilliantly observed. Charlotte and Julie's friendship, and their confused sense of what they need from each other, was one of the best fictional depictions of a close female friendship I've read about. Julie's fears and bizarre behaviour are set out in a way that you sympathize with her without ever finding her weird or irritating, and her mathematical preoccupations (shades of Lisbeth Salander, though the characters couldn't be more different in certain ways) were fascinating. Her relationship with her mother was well-observed, even if her father was so awful that you wondered why she consented to live with him. Chantel was another brilliant creation, reminding readers not to accept lazy stereotypes of Essex girls - the bit about her grandparents nearly made me cry, as did her growing friendship with David. Luke may have not been quite as vivid a character as these three girls, but Thomas did a great job of showing his frustration, and craving for a different life. And David's courage was very moving. The book also, alongside tackling serious themes, was riotously funny. The scenes in The Edge, particularly David's showdown with Owen, had me literally laughing out loud, ditto the section in the video shop, and some of the group's adventures on the B-Roads (South Mimms will have a special resonance for me if I ever go that way...). And despite a couple of clangers (I'm pretty sure most people couldn't check e-mail from their mobile phones in 2000 and 2001, particularly if they still had dial-up connections at home) I thought Thomas brought the early millennium years very well to life - the music, the clothes, the food, the popular culture. The Essex background was well evoked too, without ever being a parody.
Finally, although I'd have liked to know more about exactly what was wrong with Luke (did he really have XP - the subject of a very different novel by Elizabeth Graver - or was he a victim of his mother's Munchausen's by Proxy?) and more about his destructive relationship with his mother Jean, I thought the scenes with Wei the Healer were lovely, and quite profound.
A real surprise (I wasn't sure I'd like the book): a novel that manages to be funny, profound and uniformly vivid. I'm now off to buy more Scarlett Thomas.
on 19 February 2008
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.
The extremely well-written story of mid-twenty-year-old neighbours Julie and Luke- Luke with an affliction that means he can't go outside, Julie who failed her exams in order to look after him though they're not partners- and their bizarre array of friends who reach a turning point in their lives and decide to get Luke cured.
It's very easy to read, the characters are totally engaging, and every one of the supporting cast has a novel's worth of story in their own right. By the time they set out in the camper van you are with them every step of the way. The ending is the first real "I wasn't expecting that!" ending I've read in some time, yet it works and is very appropriate.
It is definitely a cut above a lot of the other twenty-somethings 'modern fiction' that's out there at the moment. It's the first Scarlett Thomas book I've read but it won't be the last.
on 26 November 2013
I loved The End of Mr Y although it's not at all the sort of book I normally read and couldn't wait to find some more Scarlett Thomas but I found Going Out a bit tedious and eventually got tired of everyone's hang ups and complaints; gave up on it in the end, sadly.
on 16 August 2002
I'll start this review talking about the author in general. In some quarters she seems to have developed a reputation as a 'chick lit' author, possibly because she is a woman (surprisingly enough, female is not a genre) and the covers of her previous books have all been a bit on the bright side.
Well, it's not true and it never has been: her first three books were kick-ass detective stories and the last one (Bright Young Things) was, briefly, a thought experiment type of novel examining the relationships between people to the world - at least I think it was, I go into this in more depth in my review of Bright Young Things (so you can that out next, if you want).
So, not chick lit. Scarlett was also a contributor to the New Puritan Anthology. You may have ideas about what this means - is the book all surface and plain storytelling; a little dour and dull? No, it isn't.
Two things about the New Puritans: firstly, it's probably best not to assume too much about the contributors unless you've actually read the anthology (avoid labels, even if authors appear to be sticking them on themselves); secondly, the project was a one-off, an experiment - not a way of life (Toby Litt's Deadkidsongs breaks pretty much every rule in the manifesto - yet both that book and his story in the anthology are very good).
Probably the best way to get an idea of Scarlett's writing style (and mindset) is to search out her excellent (if slightly crazed) website - that's how I got into her writing in the first place.
Anyway enough about what the book isn't, here's what it is. Very good, for a start, though possibly not to everyone's taste.
The two main characters have opposing dilemmas: one can't go out (he's allergic to the sun) the other doesn't want to (she's scared of the world).
It's about them and their friends: everyone's young; everyone's trying to make sense of their lives; it's routed firmly in contemporary Britain and the story rattles along (I read the book in one sitting and was a bit disappointed that there wasn't more).
This could easily be the recipe for a shallow soapy book and some people might find it hard to get past all the contemporary references (I think these people should lighten up, books don't have to be forever).
However, the main thing is the philosophical nature of the book. Like in her previous book, Scarlett is using an extreme situation - almost, but not quite, a fantasy situation - to ask questions about our lives and how we experience the world. It's not dull and academic - it's all done with story and example - but the book is teeming with ideas (from complex numbers to our perception of risk) and it is this that makes it particularly satisfying. In this respect, the comparisons with Douglas Coupland are appropriate - however, the cultural background is completely different (England vs. America/Canada).
I suppose this could be a negative point for some readers though - and characters do tend to go into monologues a bit (didn't bother me in the slightest though).
There is also much joy to be had in the prose. At first, it seems functional and subservient to the story but there are many moments of quiet and well observed poetry - phrases to roll around the brain.
After all this praise, why not five stars?
Partly because I'd have liked it to be longer and wrap up the stories of the characters some more (very personal thing, this). Mainly, though, five stars implies a perfect book - and I don't want to get flip about that kind of thing. Four stars should be the best you can expect, in general, and I don't think you can predict a five-star experience. Having said that though, this book could easily be a five star experience for you.
on 2 June 2015
I'm slightly confused by this book. Whilst the description on the back sounded highly promising, I can't help but feel slightly robbed by what actually happened.
Luke is allergic to the sun. He can't leave his house and spends his time watching TV and surfing the net. Despite his condition, he has a close group of friends - each evidently with issues of their own but none reflecting the same seriousness as Luke's. They all come together to arrange a trip to Wales where a healer will supposedly cure Luke of his condition and all will be fine again. It turns out that Luke isnt the only one that needs healing..
I'm disappointed that the main focus was not in fact on Luke and his condition but on his friends' somewhat shallow issues and dramas. Basically, I would have preferred to have read more from Luke's point of view than the silly young girls he knocked about with. A lot of this story was just incredibly random and I felt that there were too many unnecessary characters introduced and focused on.
on 17 May 2013
Arrived in advertised condition within advertised time.
Book was a great read and although I wasn't thrilled with the ending, it was suited and the whole thing came to a reasonable climax.
Not one of Scarlett's best, but it was one of her earlier works.
on 22 May 2003
Although this book is an extremely easy read it does not insult the readers' intelligence. The story is a good one and logical to follow. The author describes the characters in amusing detail and the reader genuinely wants the focus of the story, Luke, to get better. The ending is unpredictable and the book makes a refreshing change from many of the conventional others that fill the shelves of numerous book shops. If made into a film, Scarlett Thomas' "Going Out" would be a box office hit.
on 15 January 2013
There were some strange gaps in the understanding of the world for someone apparently at least averagely intelligent, well read and with access to TV. Perhaps more characters than required to tell the story - some of which were more or less interchangeable. Reasonably interesting. Not her best book.