Being shortlisted for a famous literary prize is like a springboard to get on the radar of so many readers! That’s how I found out about Ruth Ozeki and her book The Book of Form and Emptiness – after it was shortlisted on the Women’s Prize for Fiction 2022.
Only few days later I noticed it was available on Netgalley – what an opportunity, right? So that’s how I got to read it, one of the very rare occasions when I start reading a book with no clue about the story …
The Book of Form and Emptiness in a nutshell
Let’s get one thing straight – The Book of Form and Emptiness is a complex book. At its core, it is about Benny, a teenager boy who deals with mental health issues, and about his recently-widowed mother, who develops a hoarding problem.
But there is so much more to the story. There are talking objects, a Book narrating Benny’s life (while him being aware of it), an amazing Library, a Zen Buddhist monk, Trump’s election and the following protests, decluttering and Marie Kondo, and the list can go on and on.
My overall impression
My feelings about this book are really mixed. On one hand, I appreciate the diversity and complexity of the story, and I agree it is a masterpiece. Ozeki brings at the forefront of her story themes that are so important and relatable, such as the vicious cycle of hoarding or the pressure of fitting in.
On the other hand, for me it was not a very pleasant reading experience – it was quite saddening, as there’s a lot of grief and anxiety, and the book felt super long. It really is long as number of pages (500+), and I felt like I was slogging through, especially in the second part.
The local Library
The Library was one of my favourite elements of the book. Benny goes to the library to hide, but also to meet his (imaginary?) friends. It seems the only place where he feels protected and understood.
Of course the Library reminded me of The Cemetery of Forgotten Books series by Carlos Ruiz Zafon (my review) – one of my favourite series of all times 🙂
The Book of Form and Emptiness & The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time
The main character of The Book of Form and Emptiness reminded me of another story – The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon. I watched the theatre play based on the book (my review), back in 2019.
I think Christopher and Benny have a lot in common – they are both teenagers, suffer from mental health issues, live with only one parent, and run away from home (for different reasons).
Also, both stories illustrate the difficulties of Christopher and Benny to come to terms with happenings from their lives, while dealing with the added complexity of the mental health problems.
To conclude, The Book of Form and Emptiness is a worth-reading book that covers a multitude of topics – there are very high chances that you will related to at least one of them! The only disclaimer is that it might seem too long if you are usually enjoying faster-paced books.
‘Till next time … happy reading!
PS: I received a digital copy of this book at my request, via NetGalley, in exchange for an honest review. My review expresses my own thoughts about the story and it is not influenced in any way by the publisher or the author. The book is published on March 24th, 2022.