book blog · Book Review

Book Review | The Book Of Form And Emptiness by Ruth Ozeki

April 14th, 2022

Hi Readers!

I’m really struggling to determine my feelings about this book. Overall it wasn’t what I was expecting, and a lot of it I loved, but there were some things I didn’t love so much, which I’m disappointed about as this was one of my more anticipated reads from the Women’s Prize longlist.

| Published: 2021 by Viking |
| Genre: Magical Realism |
| Themes: Grief, Mental Health, Coming-Of-Age |
| Length: 548 Pages |
| Age: Adult |
| My Rating: ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ |

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.

This book started so strong for me. It begins with the death of Benny’s father, and over the grief sticken period Benny begins to hear the voices of objects. It goes on to explore the mental health of both Benny and his mother, their relationship which becomes more and more strained, and the relationship we have with objects and the material world.

Stories never start at the beginning, Benny. They differ from life in that regard. Life is lived from birth to death, from the beginning into an unknowable future. But stories are told in hindsight. Stories are life lived backward.

I realise now I really didn’t know what this book was before I started it. All I needed to know was that it was narrated by a book that the main character could hear and I thought that sounded amazing. That’s not really the focus of the book though, especially as you get further into it. I think I was expecting something that felt more like The Starless Sea, which I didn’t get. But of course that’s not the books fault.

So what did we get? A lot. And that’s perhaps one of the issues I had with it. It’s very ambitious in the amount of themes and topics it discusses and I could go on and on about them, but it made for a very long 500 page book that for me could have done with being cut down.

One theme Ozeki wrote in an impactful way was children’s mental health, how it’s handled, and the effect it has on parents. Benny’s story felt quite YA, coming-of-age, and gave me Perks Of Being the Wallflower vibes. I just didn’t connect with Benny the way I did Charlie because Benny is a much more flawed character who I at times struggled to sympathise with, especially later on in the book.

His mother however I found incredible. I really felt for her as she struggled to deal with the death of her husband and becoming a single parent. It was heartbreaking to see her trying to do the right thing for Benny, and his increasing distance from her. She also has her own mental health issues including hoarding of material objects which is how Ozeki explores out relationship with consumerism.

But the moments that I loved all came from the book talking about being a book. I could read a whole book of just that. There was one moment when the book was talking about how books are used to waiting for someone to pick them up, they know we live busy lives and have learnt to be patient, and they bide they’re time until we are ready for them. That moment spoke to my soul.

There’s a lot to love about this. I think my rating comes from my weird lack of connection to the story. For a book filled with so much emotion and turmoil, it never drew out any emotion from me.

Thanks For Reading,
Jess X


3 thoughts on “Book Review | The Book Of Form And Emptiness by Ruth Ozeki

  1. I had a very similar experience while reading this book – the first part seemed quite interesting, but the more I read, the less captivating it became. Overall it was an interesting read, but definitely not a favourite.


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