Review by Ben Macnair
Publisher: Penguin March 2011
ISBN: 978-02419555154 PB
Oliver Tate is 15, going on 39. He lives in Swansea, with his Mum and Dad and longs for escape, and a new life. His Dad is suffering from depression, and his mum has an interesting Capoeira teacher. A book like this is easy to compare to something like Catcher in the Rye, Youth in Revolt, or at a stretch The Graduate. A study in youthful malaise, dissatisfaction with life, and people hoping for more.
Submarine is not really comparable. Oliver Tate is an eccentric teenager, obsessed with the meanings of words, exploring the lives of people around him, falling in love with his pyromaniac girlfriend Jordana. The struggles of adolescence are well-drawn, from the discovery of what the body can do, the changing nature of friendships and relationships, how teasing and bullying are nothing to be proud of. However, it also looks at the education system and the world that could be waiting for Oliver when he leaves the safety and comfort of Swansea for the wider world.
Some themes probably wouldn’t stand up to scrutiny in today’s world, but they are the values of a 1990’s teenager growing up in a small town, with small-town values.
The story though is amusing, following the misadventures of a boy who thinks he is a man. His mates, including Chips, are well-drawn, with Oliver’s time at school being particularly true to form, with much to recognise for anyone who went to a comprehensive school in the 1990s. It is both comedic, and true to life, and the story goes along at a pace that is suitable for the story.
Oliver Tate is a well-drawn character, his behaviour a little odd, but there is some sympathy for what he is facing, as he tries to make sense of the world and his place in it.