Book Review: The Book of Form and Emptiness, Ruth Ozeki

One year after the death of his beloved musician father, thirteen-year-old Benny Oh begins to hear voices. The voices belong to the things in his house – a sneaker, a broken Christmas ornament, a piece of wilted lettuce. Although Benny doesn’t understand what these things are saying, he can sense their emotional tone; some are pleasant, a gentle hum or coo, but others are snide, angry and full of pain. When his mother develops a hoarding problem, the voices grow more clamorous.

At first Benny tries to ignore them, but soon the voices follow him outside the house, onto the street and at school, driving him at last to seek refuge in the silence of a large public library, where objects are well-behaved and know to speak in whispers. There, he falls in love with a mesmerising street artist with a smug pet ferret, who uses the library as her performance space. He meets a homeless philosopher-poet, who encourages him to ask important questions and find his own voice amongst the many. And he meets his very own Book – a talking thing – who narrates Benny’s life and teaches him to listen to the things that truly matter.


A book must start somewhere. One brave letter must volunteer to go first, laying itself on the line in an act of faith, from which a word takes heart and follows, drawing a sentence into its wake. From there, a paragraph amasses, and soon a page, and the book is on its way, finding a voice, calling itself into being.


What I Liked

  • The warmth and acceptance of otherness within the novel.
  • The joy in language, in phonology and in semantics and grammar, as well as in those things we make with language, namely books – a pure joy, delivered with not a little tongue in cheek humour at the expense of the writing industry!
  • Annabelle’s tragedy.
  • The Bindery was exceptional.

What Could Have Been Different

  • The resolution in the final chapters was perhaps a little too neat, a little too tidy and convenient…. but I feel that that is a facile observation to make.

Ratings:

Overall:

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

Characters:

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

Plot / Pace:

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Worldbuilding:

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

Structure:

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Language:

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

Page Count:

560 pages

Publisher:

Canongate Books Ltd

Date:

24th March 2022

Links:

Amazon, Goodreads

3 thoughts on “Book Review: The Book of Form and Emptiness, Ruth Ozeki”

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