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The Book of Form and Emptiness

The Book of Form and Emptiness by Ruth Ozeki

As seen:

  • Women's Prize for Fiction 2022

By Ruth Ozeki

avg rating

3 reviews

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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.


27 May 2022

Pauline 30

An unusual novel, exploring a wide range of themes including grief, mental health, consumerism, tolerance of those who are different and Zen philosophy amongst many! The story revolves around the relationship between Benny Oh and his mother Annabelle as they struggle to cope with the death of his father, Kenzi. Tbere are many 'voices' in the novel and one of the narrators is a book! This opens up exploration of the power of books and Libraries.
I found the story started off at a good pace, but I flagged about halfway through when the plot diverted to tell the story of Aiken, a Japanese woman who becomes a nun. However the later part of the novel is very moving as Benny and his mother find a way forward. I think the novel is maybe too long and there are too many ideas for one book! However, it is a moving look at mental illness and there are many colourful characters along the way. Certainly an interesting read!

23 May 2022


The Book of Form and Emptiness will stay with me for a long time and is destined to become a modern classic. A thought provoking and at times disturbing story which describes PTSD in all it's horror.
The death of a beloved father and husband results in devastating consequences for his son Benny and his wife Annabelle. Each is trapped in their own misery, although Benny recognises his behaviour Annabelle is in denial of hers, at times each tries to reach out to the other. Eventually it is the kindness of virtual strangers that saves them. I get the impression that in real life it probably wouldn't have been a happy ending.
Jacqui, Methley Book Club

22 May 2022


A very absorbing book covering the trials of living with psychotic teenager and a mother who cannot help but hoard and live in total kiosk. The unusual mode of storytelling including the use of the book as a character within the story was confusing at first. Once into the heart-tugging story the main characters, Benny the teenager and Anabelle his mother was unable to accept the sudden death of husband and father Kenji. Benny’s head was a whirl of voices emanating from all manner of objects, his mother Anabelle was unable to accept her role as the new head of the family and slid into a world of untidiness and hoarding.
Annabelle could only relate to him as a child and not as a teenager attempting to manage his grief over the sudden and tragic death of his father. Benny’s health issues caused him to retreat from formal learning by causing disruption to classes in school.
Both Annabelle lack of organisation within the home increased the pressure on Benny who could not rationalise his situation and often ran away. His main escape was to the library wherein he would settle into his regular cubbyhole surrounded with a random selection of books. Whilst at the Library he met with Aleph and the homeless groupies. He became a friend to Aleph which became stronger as the story developed and this caused him to fall into a seedy part of life. Brushes with the school authorities, Child Protection department resulted in his being detained for periods within a mental facility.
A very moving story covering family life with psychotic problems and how difficult it becomes throughout the teenage years coupled with a parent with hoarding problems.
A book that drew you into the lives of the main characters thereby creating a situation wherein the reader must find out how they ended up. Did they sort out their lives together?
Peter @Methley Book Club Rated 3.5 stars

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