By Sam Byers
Faber & Faber, Hardcover, 9780865477643, 310pp.
Publication Date: June 4, 2013
A debut novel of love, narcissism, and ailing cattle
Idiopathy (?d?'?p i): a disease or condition which arises spontaneously or for which the cause is unknown.
"Idiopathy" a novel as unexpected as its title, in which Katherine, Daniel, and Nathan three characters you won't forget in a hurry unsuccessfully try to figure out how they feel about one another and how they might best live their lives in a world gone mad. Featuring a mysterious cattle epidemic, a humiliating stint in rehab, an unwanted pregnancy, a mom turned media personality ("Mother Courage"), and a workplace with a bio-dome housing a perfectly engineered cornfield, it is at once a scathing satire and a moving meditation on love and loneliness. With unusual verbal finesse and great humor, Sam Byers neatly skewers the tangled relationships and unhinged narcissism of a self-obsessed generation in a remarkable, uproarious first novel.
“Even as [Idiopathy] threatens to become an emotional abattoir, Byers’s prose remains spreadsheet-specific, mock analytical, funny . . . [Byers] has taken a laudable risk in turning his Bovarys bovine and Kareninas sheepish.” —Joshua Cohen, The New York Times Book Review“A darkly funny love triangle set in a slightly dystopian version of modern-day England . . . Byers’ blow-by-blow accounts of Katherine and Daniel’s vicious arguments reveal amazing psychological insight. Byers also has a knack for visceral imagery, and his clever send-ups of the self-indulgent inanities of middle-class liberals make Idiopathy an entertaining read.” —Slate editor Laura Anderson on New York 1“The Time cover story about millennial narcissism is just the latest in a long and overwritten narrative about this generation’s solipsism. But these lengthy articles can never get past the idea that Facebook and cell phone selfies are the problem. With Idiopathy, Byers is satirizing something deeper: the idea that we are all possessed by our desire to be happy, that maybe it is that desire and self-doubt that keeps us so unhappy.” —Kevin Nguyen, Grantland"Blistering satire . . . Byers lampoons, with excoriating wit, the hash we have made of modern life, and the hash it has made of us." —Electric Literature"A brightly dyspeptic comedy that traces the stillborn careers, love affairs and life ambitions of three close friends in their thirties, as they grow irreparably apart in the wake of a series of slow-burning catastrophes . . . Byers has a quicksilver prose style and an easy, unlabored way of getting his point across . . . A sad, poignant and funny debut, deeply relatable and replete with promise for the author’s future." —Time Out New York (4 out of 5 stars)
“Who knows what caused this hilarious, observant, and provocative novel, but I’m glad it happened. Sam Byers exhibits serious talent in his debut.” —Sam Lipsyte, author of The Fun Parts
“Elegant and sharply drawn, full of emotional and linguistic precision. Idiopathy is written with remarkable assurance and skill, and I kept having to remind myself that this is a first book. Sam Byers is very talented, and I am already looking forward to whatever he writes next.” —Charles Yu, author of How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe
“Is it possible to shiver with pleasure and horror at the same time? Reader, I tell you it is. The world of Idiopathy may be the one we all inhabit, but it’s no less phantasmagorical for that. A wickedly fun piece of work.” —John Wray, author of Lowboy
“Idiopathy made me feel even worse about my generation, all while laughing hysterically, busting my gut, going to the hospital. It also features a delightful protagonist and the unexplainable British town of Norwich.” —Gary Shteyngart, author of Super Sad True Love Story
“Savagely brilliant . . . Brimming with comic brio and nuanced psychological insight, Idiopathy signals the arrival of an exciting new talent. Byers is brilliant at capturing the inadequacies of a generation so conceited that that even their attempted altruism is self-serving and insubstantial.” —David Annand, The Sunday Telegraph
“Scabrously funny, beadily vigilant and often piercingly perceptive, [Byers] not only mercilessly trains a magnifying glass on broken relationships, but also skillfully refracts his snappy prose in such a way as to burn a hole in his characters’ self delusions.” —Trevor Lewis, The Sunday Times
“Laced with satirical verve . . . this is a savagely funny debut from a gifted, cynical new voice.” —Joseph Charlton, The Financial Times
“Woefully funny . . . Byers writes with caustic humour and takes no small joy in his characters’ sufferings, similar in ways to Jonathan Franzen at his finest . . . Signals the rise of a young star in the world of fiction.” —Diego Baez, Booklist
“A howling dig at cultural myopia and a more serious examination of its source . . . For all his lacerating one-liners, Byers’s real skill is the pathos achieved through bleakness.” —Catherine Taylor, The Guardian
“This is fiction that will make you purr with delight. It’s well observed, light on its feet and never less than entertaining, with elegant ruminations on sex, love and loneliness that are offset by some sublime comic riffs on the state of the nation . . . In Katherine, the author has created a spiky, sparky heroine for out times.” —Sebastian Shakespeare, Tatler
“Idiopathy is almost indecently entertaining. Byers writes with scalding verve about office life, sexual mores, Brits on holiday, self-help sappiness, middle-class activism, the inanity of television news, relationships with impossible parents, and much else besides.” —Sam Leith, The Times Literary Supplement
“One of the most ill-advised reunions in recent fiction. [Byers] has a sharp and delightfully unforgiving eye for the follies and hypocrisies of 21st-century British life . . . Despite the humour—and it is (to use a cliché that Byers would pick up on, italicise and mock) “laugh-out-loud funny” —Idiopathy is, at its core, a sad, almost poignant book . . . An excellent first novel.” —Cordelia Lynn, Prospect
“Idiopathy is about what bloody idiots people are. While delivering one laugh-out-loud zinger after another (many of them too raunchy to be quoted here), Byers lampoons, with excoriating wit, the hash we have made of modern life, and the hash it has made of us.” —Jenna Leigh Evans, Electric Literature
“A cartoonishly misanthropic satire on modern mores and first-world issues . . . He has a keenly absurdist eye for the more excruciating aspects of human relationships.” —Metro
“I grew up reading Iris Murdoch so discussions about love and people’s good and bad behaviour are meat and drink to me, but . . . I really would not have finished this if I hadn’t been reviewing it.” —David Benedict on BBC Radio 4’s Saturday Review