The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Díaz; Submarine by Joe Dunthorne; The House at Midnight by Lucie Whitehouse; Something I'm Not by Lucy Beresford - review by Richard Godwin

Richard Godwin

Richard Godwin on a Quartet of Four First Novels

  • Junot Díaz, 
  • Joe Dunthorne, 
  • Lucie Whitehouse, 
  • Lucy Beresford

The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao is the first novel by Dominican-born New Yorker Junot Díaz, a prolific short-story writer. Its special powers are many, but its appeal is simple: it brings to vibrant life frames of experience that most readers will not have previously given much thought to. Amid a slew of first novels that feel over-familiar from their first sentence, I cannot tell you how refreshing this is.

Oscar (the nickname Wao comes later) is ten when we first encounter him, a chubby, speccy and miserable resident of New Jersey's Hispanic ghetto. He sports his nerdiness ‘like a Jedi wore his light saber’, turning to fantasy an outlet as much for his frustrated romantic desires as for his innate dorkishness. Fellow Dominicans regard him as an embarrassment. He believes he is afflicted by a Fukú – a family curse that all Dominicans fear.

As the narrative pans back a generation to recount the tale of his svelte, amply-bosomed mother, Belicia, in her Caribbean homeland, we begin to suspect he has a point. Belicia's parents were victims of the Dominican leader Rafael Trujillo – ‘the dictatingest dictator there ever was’, as the jive-talking narrator

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