From time to time a book appears on my radar not because I get to put it in the hands of lots of customers but for the complete opposite reason. One or two of the popular vloggers seem to have self-published volumes which are just not available to us and, occasionally, there are ‘rights’ issues which mean that a book is just not legally available in the UK. (This doesn’t mean the book is banned or anything. Publishers buy the right to produce books in various regions – Australia, Europe, China or USA perhaps – and if you are not in that region you can’t buy that edition. Which is okay if there is an edition in the region you live in but annoying if there isn’t). Recently we have been getting a lot of enquiries about the anonymously written Diary of an Oxygen Thief and, until recently, we have been largely coming up against these ‘rights’ issues. When I heard that a UK edition was due I decided that I should see what all the fuss was about.
Let’s just be really honest from the beginning. I didn’t like this book. The best thing I can say about it is that it was reasonably well-written in terms of pace and style and, despite finding no redeeming features at all in the narrator, I did finish the book. But mostly because he kept hinting that he got his comeuppance (and I did want to see that happen…). Mostly I found the book worrying. It is the diary of a young man in his thirties detailing his relationships with women: and when I say ‘relationships’ I mean his habit of acting like a decent person until a woman falls in love with him (and, somehow, they always do) and then humiliating them in an attempt to break their heart. Now I know that men like this must exist but, in the real world, I suggest they exist mostly in their own imaginations. The humiliations are often very graphic in terms of sexual slurs and insults and always deeply unpleasant to read. There is a plot – a reason for the writing and planned publication of the diary – but, to be honest, it just felt like an excuse for the misogyny to me.
I worry about this book because almost all of the enquiries I’ve had about it have been from teens (or the parents of teens) who have probably seen the infamous opening passage on Twitter or Tumblr. ‘That quote‘ makes it sound like a teen book but I would certainly want to let parents of younger teens know that it is much more adult in content. I mean, the main character is in his 30s – why would teens want to hear about someone so ancient? Although, to be fair, his actions and repertoire of sexist insults have the maturity of the average 12-year-old so maybe that would help…There have been comparisons made to Catcher in the Rye (the narrator is as annoying as Holden Caulfield but without any of the literary class) but I’d say that American Psycho is nearer the mark – and I’d not give that to a younger teen either. I don’t think we should be overly keen to censor what young people read but I would certainly want to advise parents to read this themselves and be prepared to have some difficult conversations with both teenaged boys and girls about why the behaviours in this book would not be acceptable in real life.