“When a book and a reader are meant for each other, both of them know it.”
A brilliantly inventive new novel about loss, growing up and our relationship with things, by the Booker Prize-shortlisted author of A Tale for the Time Being
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.
The Book of Form and Emptiness blends unforgettable characters, riveting plot and vibrant engagement with everything from jazz to climate change to our attachment to material possessions. This is classic Ruth Ozeki – bold, humane and heartbreaking.
“This compassionate novel of life, love and loss glows in the dark. Its strange, beautiful pages turn themselves. If you’ve lost your way with fiction over the last year or two, let The Book of Form and Emptiness light your way home”
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“This is both an extremely vivid picture of a small family enduring unimaginable loss, and a very powerful meditation on the way books can contain the chaos of the world and give it meaning and order. Annabelle and Benny Oh try to stay afloat in a sea of things, news, substances, technological soullessness and psychiatric quagmires, and the way they learn to live and breathe and even swim through it all feels like the struggle we all face. The Book of Form and Emptiness builds on the themes of A Tale for the Time Being, and ratifies Ozeki as one of our era’s most compassionate and original minds”
“Once again, Ozeki has created a masterpiece. Her generous heart, remarkable imagination, and brilliant mind light up every page”
Karen Joy Fowler
“Heart-breaking and heart-healing – a book to not only keep us absorbed but also to help us think and love and live and listen. No one writes quite like Ruth Ozeki and The Book of Form and Emptiness is a triumph”
“Ozeki’s prose is warm and welcoming, but as you turn the pages you’ll see that she carries her pen to dark places. Her characters ask What is a self, what should we hold onto, what to do when the whole world hurts? And yet even in this darkness, she finds hope. Ozeki reminds me of a literary bower bird, taking interesting things from across traditions and continents, all to make this intricate nest for us, her readers”
Rowan Hisayo Buchanan
Ruth Ozeki is a novelist, filmmaker and Zen Buddhist priest. She is the award-winning author of three novels: My Year of Meats, All Over Creation and A Tale for the Time Being, which was shortlisted for the 2013 Man Booker Prize and translated into 28 languages. She has also written a short memoir, The Face: A Time Code. She is affiliated with the Everyday Zen Foundation and lives in Northampton, Massachusetts, where she teaches creative writing at Smith College and is the Grace Jarcho Ross 1933 Professor of Humanities.