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Customer Review

on 9 June 2009
Seb wants to volunteer at the local zoo, and finds they're incredibly reluctant to take him on. (Perhaps because they think he's a bit of a misfit: long-haired, self-questioning, authority-baiting, a keen eye for absurdity and pretence.) There's a kind of conversational dance - brilliantly conveyed - where he has to express just the right amount of interest in the animals. Too little and they'll think he's not serious, too much, and they'll think he's some sort of pervert (he worries). In the end, they knock him back anyway, with no explanation. Seb, infuriated, informs the reader that he's off to post negative comments on the zoo's website...then reports back that there is no website.
This is one of the funniest episodes in the book (you have to read it, obviously) and it also captures the way in Seb brings the reader along on his journey. It's very vivid (often toe-curlingluy awkward) and - you feel - very honest.
There are plenty of outstandingly funny episodes: the long-term and totally uncharitable volunteer Gladys who terrorises Seb while working at Oxfam, and the extended final section as Seb prepares to run a half-marathon (his training consists of speeding up every time he goes near a woman, and fretting about the best music for running). As with Seb's other books, the dialogue is extremely well written, revelling in the hidden rhythmns and strangenesses of the mundane, its superfical flatness the same kind of comedy vehicle as you find in The Office or Peep Show.
As the title half-seriously suggests, there are more serious things at stake here too. Seb occasionally agonises over his motives and behaviour - in this he well represents his belated, benighted generation - and has some sharp things to say about consumerism and atomisation. Probably the most powerful section of this ultimately optimistic book is the relationship between Seb and Apo, a Congolese refugee who he tries to help through the appallingly obstructive and unkind British system for asylum seekers.
It's honest and very funny - I wolfed it down.
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