Books

The Book of Form and Emptiness by Ruth Ozeki: A deeply profound novel about human connection

The Book of Form and Emptiness by Ruth Ozeki looks at the refuge that can be found within books and human connection, writes author Doug Johnstone.

Ozeki turns the idea of storytelling into metafiction. Image: Kamil Porembiński/Flickr

Ruth Ozeki’s The Book of Form and Emptiness is about a parent and child dealing with bereavement.

The Book of Form and Emptiness by Ruth Ozeki is out now (Canongate, £18.99)

In the wake of Kenny’s death, his son Benny starts to hear voices from inanimate objects, while Benny’s mother Annabelle starts hoarding. Both struggle to cope with normal society, and Benny finds refuge in his local library, where the voices are at least hushed.

This idea of unusual forms of grief also runs through my last three novels, which deal with a family of women running a funeral directors.

Ozeki is a practising Zen Buddhist priest and elements of that run through her novel’s core.

Similar elements flow through my recent books too, through my central character’s beliefs.

Ozeki turns the idea of storytelling into metafiction here, as the book itself narrates some passages of the tale, which makes sense since Benny can hear the literal voices of books.

That might sound a little tricksy but as a narrative device it works brilliantly, placing Benny and Annabelle’s story into a wider, more panoramic landscape.

This is a novel that manages to be deeply profound about human connection, but does so with the lightest of touches.

That’s the other thing that comes with being a novelist – deep-rooted admiration of all the brilliant authors out there.

As someone who writes for a living, it can be harder to be blown away by novels when you can see the nuts and bolts of them. But this is a book that transcends that.

The Book of Form and Emptiness by Ruth Ozeki is out now (Canongate, £18.99)


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