Not the Booker: Hello Friend We Missed You by Richard Owain Roberts – the gem of this year’s shortlist

by islandclublounge
16 de julio de 2022

Not the Booker: Hello Friend We Missed You by Richard Owain Roberts – the gem of this year’s shortlist

It’s also about Hill’s relationship with the comedian Jack Black, whom we also never hear from directly

Following a man who returns to his childhood home to care for his dying father, this comedic and painful novel is an unexpected delight

A fter a decade, the Not the Booker prize still has the ability to produce surprises. I would never have predicted that the most interesting and original book on this year’s shortlist would be something like Hello Friend We Missed You, because Richard Owain Roberts’ book is wonderfully unlike anything else.

Take the premise: it’s about the relationship of a man called Hill with a father whom he refuses to call father (preferring the name Roger). Roger has no dialogue (other than the odd prolonged coughing fit) and we never see him alongside Hill. All this inaction takes place on Ynys Mon (the author doesn’t like the name Anglesey), Hill’s childhood home, where he has returned in order to take care of Roger, who has an unspecified but seemingly terminal illness. Although we never see the two men communicating directly, we learn a great deal about them, almost by accident, as memories float into Hill’s mind. We also get to see a few old and apparently trivial emails Roger has sent to Hill, including his underachieving son’s old school reports (“I could spend all day reading them, they do make me laugh”).

Meanwhile, Hill is striking up a relationship with Roger’s carer Trudy, largely based on tucking into cans of cheap lager and laughing at themselves saying stupid things, such as: “Lil Naz X [sic] is this generation’s Frank Sinatra.” And it is a good job Trudy is around, because Hill is in the doldrums. His wife has died and his career as a screenwriter is stalling. We’re told Jack Black’s production company has shown interest in some material he’s written, but this has got stuck in development hell. Hill spends a lot of time composing hilariously frustrated emails to the comedian. Luckily he doesn’t send them:

Life is good for me. I’m happy taking a holiday at the moment and working on some new ideas. It feels really nice to be in a calm and creative environment (I imagine this is what LA is like?) I might be moving house soon, so if you need to send me anything it’s best you do it via email only at this stage (I’ll let you know when this changes). Perhaps you could have a supporting role in our project?”

There’s plenty more such humour, as when Hill fails to decide what to watch on Netflix, fails to have fun at awful house parties, fails to reconnect with old friends (even if they have the same smell as they did 15 years ago: “Lynx Africa.”) But behind it all, there’s dread. Even during the funniest moments, painful thoughts cross Hill’s mind. Roberts has created an effective and intimate third person perspective opiniones AntiChat that seamlessly moves from amusement to tragedy. One moment there’s laughter as Trudy complains to her dog that Hill’s being a “negatoid”, the next we learn Hill is thinking of “the days of his mother’s funeral and Roger’s ashen, miserable face; the mourners from his mother’s book-club all stoned, not knowing how to explain suicide to an 11-year-old.”

I loved Sex Tape, a really great cameo, probably the high point of the whole film

Roberts’s lean, spare prose often trails into silence. Chapters end with thoughts unfinished and actions incomplete, leaving readers to fill in the blank on the page, or at the very least feel its emptiness.

But after finishing the novel, even now I’m fondly imagining how Hill or Trudy would react to being asked to feel the emptiness of a blank page. Because the great thing about Hello Friend We Missed You is that it never takes itself too seriously. Roberts consistently undercuts pretension and finds comedy in unexpected places. Such well-directed scorn prevents the book from ever feeling maudlin, but there’s also enough genuine emotion and uncertainty to stop it feeling flippant. It’s as poignant as it is pointed. The net result is a novel that has impressed me more than any other on our shortlist. I do believe we’ve found a gem.