I’m not sure if this is a novel or a series of short stories, articles, blog posts or semi-autobiographical jottings, but whatever the hell it is, it’s funny... It’s a novelty, an oddity: neither a 19th-century style realist novel nor an avant-garde piece of experimentalism, but a nice little comedy squib, with just enough heft and bite... If you like the structure – setup, joke, setup, joke, setup, joke – then you’ll love What We’re Teaching Our Sons. If you don’t, well, there’s still plenty to occupy your attention, because the book is not just funny: there are tiny stories embedded throughout the endlessly repeated pattern... The pattern is just the entry point, and all the little details and the insistent use of the first person plural entice the reader into a surprisingly rich fictional world... Occasionally, it all gets a bit sickly sweet... But more often, there’s still that bit of bite... Funny, sad and true.
Proving George Herbert’s line that a father is worth a hundred schoolmasters, Owen Booth’s arresting debut is a compilation of life lessons passed down from father to son. With the emotional depth of a novel mixed with the breezier form of a parenting manual, Booth has written a remarkable debut whose profound documenting of family life is achieved in less than 200 pages... What We’re Teaching Our Sons gets its depth from contrasting the intimate details of individual relationships with a universal backdrop that includes all fathers and sons... In the hands of a lesser writer, the style could soon irk but Booth’s lucid writing and light touch, sometimes caustic but never sarcastic, move the narrative gracefully along... Aided by the repetition, there is a rhythmic, dreamlike feel to the book that’s in keeping with its blurring of real and imaginary scenarios... The sense of poignancy is augmented by the inherent goodness at the heart of the book, a desire to help the next generation that never turns mawkish or sentimental on the page.