A Calling for Charlie Barnes: Joshua Ferris finally steps up to the plate

Book review: Exquisitely judged humour in this intriguing and intelligent novel

Joshua Ferris. Photograph: Stefano Guidi/LightRocket via Getty

Joshua Ferris. Photograph: Stefano Guidi/LightRocket via Getty

The unreliable narrator is often a sly figure. Think of Humbert Humbert or Patrick Bateman – or, for that matter, anyone who has ever written a memoir. They entangle us in their narratives, in their version of events, as we blindly saunter along as hapless as pawns. Making a fool out of the reader is the point, and it’s one of the few times the author can get away with it. However, it must be done subtly and shadily, never  too obvious that we are the butt of some big joke.

So what happens then when an unreliable narrator isn’t even aware that they are an unreliable narrator? What happens when a novel, nearing its home stretch, starts suggesting that the previous couple hundred pages could’ve all been hokum? This is the garden path Joshua Ferris leads us down with his intriguing and intelligent new novel.

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