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Steven J. Mepham

Going Out by Scarlet Thomas, is a strange novel, one that will enthral, confuse entertain and frustrate.

Based around the exploits of Luke and Julie(t) and a mishmash circle of friends. The novel sets you in the heart of Essex in the nineties. Luke is 25 and chronically allergic to the sun. Julie his neighbour and best friend is immobilised by an irrational fear of everything.  Thrown into the mix are an assortment of equally troubled characters who all must go on a daring, though fraught journey to see a healer who claims he can heal Luke of his affliction. Along the way, they each must face their inner demons, when their deepest desire is to just to stay at home. Going Out proves to be a funny read that will take you on a roller coaster ride the nostalgic 90’s Essex which proves, despite first reservations to be more entertaining than thought possible.

Thomas’ characters are clear, defined and independent. Though at times they become slightly monotonous, ultimately, they are brilliantly rendered and sit well with the fantasy shade of reality that Thomas has crafted for them. However, the novel suffers from some major drawbacks many of which, are unforgivable. In one hand the humour, the assortment of characters and the circumstance are brilliant renditions of people and the way they think and act,  but in the other these renditions are fatally flawed. For instance the character David is angry and twisted at his lot in life and hits out which profanity encrusted dialogue. He is the rouge, rough and ready and well versed in the drugs scene. But at the same time he is a law student, and has a rather annoying tendency to inject his dialogue with ‘Fucking’ in more than one instance, the effect of his profanity was completely lost by Thomas’ over-use of profanity, making his character – at least in some places – feel flat and contrived.

The negative impact of Thomas’s inconsistent prose is most keenly felt at the ending or rather should it be the stopping point? The plot arc builds up to a climax that is almost entirely ghosted over. Were it  a movie, a blink in the wrong place and you would miss the point entirely and while Going Out is little more than a modernisation of The Wizard of Oz it lacks the climax that readers come to expect. There is a predictable sense to the novel, that makes the ending almost certain from chapter five and while one should not be shocked at the obviously ending, the clear lack of a twist or complication becomes disheartening. There you are, you invest your time in Julie and Luke, you read to the end and the prose’ just seems to run dry. There is resolution of a sort, but it is a half-hearted wistful affair, as if Thomas grew bored and in the words of Babe’s Farmer Hoggett said, “That’ll do, That’ll do.” Simply there is no real ending, the prose’ simply runs out and ends with a rather hasty and sloppy quotation of L. Frank. Baunm’s The Wizard of Oz. Quite why or how Thomas thought this to be  adequate ending is beyond comprehension as it smacks of laziness and while other aspect of the novel do make up some headway in bringing a sense of normality and quality to the novel. The ending, is one disappointment too many.

Despite the negative aspects Going out is a refreshing and entertaining read, as long as your keep your expectations low. Thomas had a concept that was amazing and could have been taken to so many different place. Instead it was squandered on the mundane.  Regardless of this  Going Out  is a novel that deserves being read. Even if it is only a half hearted endeavour.


You can purchase Going out at Waterstones by clicking the image below. 




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