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The Book of Form and Emptiness: Winner of the Women's Prize for Fiction 2022 Paperback – 24 Mar. 2022
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WINNER OF THE WOMEN'S PRIZE FOR FICTION 2022
When a book and a reader are meant for each other, both of them know it . . .
After the tragic death of his father, fourteen-year-old Benny Oh begins to hear voices. The voices belong to the things in his house and sound variously pleasant, angry or sad. Then his mother develops a hoarding problem, and the voices grow more clamorous. So Benny seeks refuge in the silence of a large public library. There he meets a mesmerising street artist with a smug pet ferret; a homeless philosopher-poet; and his very own Book, who narrates Benny's life and teaches him to listen to the things that truly matter.
Blending unforgettable characters with jazz, climate change and our attachment to material possessions, this is classic Ruth Ozeki - bold, humane and heartbreaking.
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From the Publisher
Ruth Ozeki is a novelist, filmmaker and Zen Buddhist priest. She is the author of three novels: My Year of Meats, All Over Creation and A Tale for the Time Being, which was shortlisted for the 2013 Man Booker Prize and translated into 28 languages. She has also written a short memoir, The Face: A Time Code. She is affiliated with the Everyday Zen Foundation and lives in Northampton, Massachusetts, where she teaches creative writing at Smith College and is the Grace Jarcho Ross 1933 Professor of Humanities.
"The Book of Form and Emptiness is a big, polyphonic, often comic, magical-realist collage of a novel that attempts to interrogate the most pressing issues of the age . . . at its heart is a compelling story of human connection and the redemptive power of art . . . Ozeki is a talented storyteller" ― Guardian
"Heart-breaking and heart-healing - a book to not only keep us absorbed but also to help us think and love and live and listen. No one writes quite like Ruth Ozeki and The Book of Form and Emptiness is a triumph" -- MATT HAIG
"There's powerful magic here . . . Ozeki is unusually patient with her characters, even the rebarbative ones, and she is able to record the subtle peculiarities of other classes of beings that more overeager writers would probably miss . . . Ozeki gives us a metaphor for our very own American consumption disorder, our love-hate relationship with the stuff we produce and can't let go of" ― New York Times Book Review
"This is both an extremely vivid picture of a small family enduring unimaginable loss, and a very powerful meditation on the way books can contain the chaos of the world and give it meaning and order. Annabelle and Benny Oh try to stay afloat in a sea of things, news, substances, technological soullessness and psychiatric quagmires, and the way they learn to live and breathe and even swim through it all feels like the struggle we all face. The Book of Form and Emptiness builds on the themes of A Tale for the Time Being, and ratifies Ozeki as one of our era's most compassionate and original minds" -- DAVE EGGERS
"Once again, Ozeki has created a masterpiece. Her generous heart, remarkable imagination and brilliant mind light up every page" -- KAREN JOY FOWLER
"Storytelling rarely comes more capacious than Ruth Ozeki's latest novel . . . Ozeki interconnects zen philosophy, the environmental crisis, a critique of our mass consumer lifestyle and a playful post-modern sensibility - one of the characters is a talking book - within a novel that, for all its wide-ranging intellectual restlessness, remains grounded in its characters' emotional reality" ― Daily Mail
"The Book of Form and Emptiness by Ruth Ozeki was so special. When I first read it, I was blown away. There are so many fantastic characters and the fact that it's narrated by a book made it extra special. I just loved every single word of it! And it's quite a big book, so I was really impressed that I didn't get bored . . . I completely immersed myself in it and I enjoyed every word" -- DOROTHY KOOMSON
Moving . . . Ozeki has considerable storytelling energies" ― Financial Times
"Philosophically serious and formally playful . . . deeply affecting and uplifting" ― Guardian
- Publisher : Canongate Books; Main edition (24 Mar. 2022)
- Language : English
- Paperback : 560 pages
- ISBN-10 : 1838855270
- ISBN-13 : 978-1838855277
- Dimensions : 12.9 x 3.3 x 19.8 cm
- Best Sellers Rank: 580 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
- Customer reviews:
About the author
Reviewed in the United Kingdom on 27 July 2022
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Some years back I had read Ruth Ozeki’s ‘A Tale for the Time Being’ (actually three times, including for two reading groups). It remains one of my favourite books and so I was very pleased to read her latest novel.
I found ‘The Book of Form & Emptiness’ a poignant coming-of-age story, though it is multilayered and explores loss and bereavement, mental illness and Zen Buddhist philosophy. It is also a novel that celebrates books and libraries. It is not an easy novel to summarise.
Its protagonist is thirteen-year-old Benny Oh. A year after the death of Kenji, his beloved musician father, Benny begins to hear voices. Not of people but of things - a running shoe, a broken Christmas ornament, even food in the fridge. While Benny doesn’t understand what these things are saying, he is able to sense their emotional tone. Yet when his grieving mother, Annabelle, becomes more withdrawn and develops a hoarding problem, the voices become more clamorous.
One object he can understand is Book, who serves as an unusual universal narrator throughout the novel. Other chapters are narrated by Benny, who also addresses the Book.
Another theme is Annabelle’s hoarding, which is linked to her bereavement. It’s quite heartbreaking as she is so trapped. On whim she buys a small book titled, ‘Tidy Magic: The Ancient Zen Art of Clearing Your Clutter and Revolutionizing Your Life’. She ignores it but it keeps popping up as if sentient.
‘Tidy Magic’ is written by Aikon, a former fashion-and-lifestyle writer turned Buddhist monk. Annabelle feels a special link to the author given that Kenji had been Japanese and for a time had lived in a Buddhist monastery before discovering his vocation as a musician.
‘Tidy Magic’ and Aikon are clearly inspired by Marie Kondo. Ruth Ozeki does poke a little gentle fun at the trend for self-help books about decluttering and organising while remaining respectful.
Overall, ‘The Book of Form & Emptiness’ is a beautifully written novel, full of wisdom and compassion. It has moments of sadness and tragedy, as well as inspiration and humour. Just wonderful. I loved it and will be recommending it widely. Like ‘A Tale for the Time Being’ I expect that it will prove a popular choice for reading groups. I know that I will be proposing it to my own.
I loved every single one of the large cast of characters but I was especially routing for Anabelle the mother who I just adored.
I have heard said that this book needs an edit. Please no just give yourself to 536 pages of masterful and emersive story telling.
Audio book also beautifully performed.
I will admit that you may feel that this book is too full of topics at times, and this is a fault as such, but on the other hand it does not seem to detract from reading pleasure, or I did not find it did. We meet here then Benny Oh, who now fourteen is having trouble. You could argue things went bad for him and his mother when his father was hit by a truck and died, when Benny was twelve. Obviously, mother and son went into grieving and trying to cope with the loss: for Annabelle this was taken up with her putting on weight, and definitely hoarding, and for Benny he became more introspective and hears voices, although he initially thinks it is the ghost of his father, and then realises that it is more than that, with objects talking to him. Along with the story of this mother and son we also find ourselves reading The Book, or to us the story here, which is the tale of what happens as things progress, such as Benny being admitted into a psychiatric ward. This is also interspersed by Benny himself speaking up at times.
We thus have a format that takes in more than a traditional tale, and so we read about climate change, natural disasters, politics, mental illness and numerous other subjects, including the importance of books and reading. Bringing in topics that are current and ongoing, so the author does not make out she has solutions for everything, and this is clearly shown in the book, with the idea that if something needs sorting, then we need to do it, and as with Annabelle’s hoarding, so we see the joys and benefits of friends and how we can help and assist each other throughout life. This is to be honest a story that is big in ideas and has magical realism and other genre types, such as books within books to help forward the tale, and it is to some extent a bit of a baggy read, but when we read of Annabelle and Benny, and even thinking back to when the father was alive, we do have a strong story of family. One thing is for certain though, and that is that this story most certainly entertains and never bores the reader.