BBC talk show host George Beverly and his family live a comfortable life in their London home – until the trolls and woke people on Twitter threaten to ruin it all. George is a national treasure, a thoroughly liberal man, a real liberal. His wife is a novelist who does the hard work of coming up with ideas herself while giving young ghosts the opportunity to practice their skill by putting her visions into words. Their three children Nelson, Elizabeth and Achilles are all mostly useless, selfish and spoilt. Their happy life gets turned upside down when George posts a tone-deaf tweet and the media – both social and not – go wild. Over the span of the week the Beverlys lose jobs, friends, lovers, and ruin their reputation, as they have to learn how unforgiving the online world can be.
All of the characters in The Echo Chamber are awful. Narcissistic, superficial, careless, inconsiderate and cruel. And yet John Boyne’s novel makes for a mostly entertaining read. The novel is a satire of cancel culture and social media’s refusal allow room for mistakes. But it is also a satire of generation X, the boomers and their inability to admit to and learn from mistakes. Mostly, Boyne seems to consider both sides with equal amounts of good-natured humour and some exasperations, but occasionally his comments on cancel culture turn quite sharp, with his view of stubborn intolerance seems more tolerant. Usefully structured in five week days and sprinkled with funny inventions – such as Ustym Karmaliuk, the tortoise with a dangerous After Eight addiction – The Echo Chamber is an easy read. Occasionally, however, the characters forget that there are caricatures in a humorous novel and turn to semi-philosophical conversations that fit neither their usual register nor the pace of the book. If you don’t mind a cast of truly unlikeable characters, this book might provide you with occasional laughter and can contribute to the conversation about social media culture. But in that regard it should be considered as a starting point, an opinion, rather than turned to for providing the answer to all our ethical dilemmas.