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The Book of Form and Emptiness

The Book of Form and Emptiness: Winner of the Women’s Prize for Fiction 2022

Ruth Ozeki

  • awardWinner, Women’s Prize for Fiction, United Kingdom, 2022
  • awardLonglisted, Joyce Carol Oates Prize, United States, 2022
  • awardLonglisted, Goldsboro Books Glass Bell Award, United Kingdom, 2022
  • awardLonglisted, Dublin Literary Award, Ireland, 2023
  • After his father dies, Benny Oh finds he can hear objects talking: teapots, marbles and sharpened pencils, babbling in anger or distress. His mother, struggling to support their household alone, starts collecting things to give her comfort. Overwhelmed by the clamour of all the stuff, Benny seeks refuge in the beautiful silence of the public library.

    There, the objects speak only in whispers. There, he meets a homeless poet and a mesmerising young performance artist. There, a book reaches out to him. Not just any book: his own book. And a very important conversation begins.

    The Book of Form and Emptiness is about grief, resilience, creativity and psychological difference. It is about the importance of reading, and an observation of the mess consumer culture has got us into. It is an affirmation of the power of community. It is funny, kind, wise, urgent and completely irresistible. If you let it—if you listen—it could change your life.


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    Ruth Ozeki
    About the Author

    Ruth Ozeki was born and raised in Connecticut by an American father and a Japanese mother. She is a novelist, filmmaker and Zen Buddhist priest whose books have garnered international acclaim. Her first two novels, My Year of Meats (1998) and All Over Creation (2003), have been translated into eleven languages and published in fourteen...

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    2 May 2023
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    Praise for Ruth Ozeki
    andThe Book of Form and Emptiness

    ‘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.’

    ‘In The Book of Form and Emptiness Ruth Ozeki writes “A book must end somewhere.” But this magnificent novel is a book that will never end; it will live within you as long as there is hope and words and a need for communion. This is Ruth Ozeki at her playful incandescent brilliant best…a reality-expanding masterpiece.’

    ‘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.’

    ‘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.’

    ‘Ruth Ozeki is an animator…She endows objects and animals with anima, the breath of life. Adept at magical realist fiction, Ozeki ensouls the world…There’s powerful magic here.’

    ‘[An] ambitious and ingenious novel that presents a stinging exploration of grief, a reflection on our relationship to objects, a potent testament to the importance of reading, writing, and books…Its heart, its ardent, beating heart, is huge. Ozeki’s playfulness and zaniness, her compassion and boundless curiosity, prevent the novel from ever feeling stiff or pretentious. Clever without being arch, metafictional without being arcane, dark without being nihilistic, The Book of Form and Emptiness is an exuberant delight.’

    ‘A stunning return from Booker Prize-shortlisted Ruth Ozeki further cements her status as one of modern literature’s most original storytellers. Engulfed by the noise of household objects (yes, they can talk) in the wake of his father’s death, Benny Oh seeks refuge in the library, where he encounters intriguing new characters, both in the human and object world. An entrancing, contemplative story about the power of listening and compassion.’

    The Book of Form and Emptiness is a strange and compelling novel about loss, creativity, difference, and the power of the written word…Ozeki’s latest is a challenging, rewarding and unexpected work that is bound to crop up on many ‘best of’ lists at the end of the year.’

    The Book of Form and Emptiness is a big, polyphonic, often comic, magical-realist collage…A compelling story of human connection and the redemptive power of art.’

    ‘Wild, in a great way…Once it gets to then end, I’m totally in, I’m onboard, ten out on ten.’

    ‘A magical book…I would recommend.’

    ‘Storytelling rarely comes more capacious than Ruth Ozeki’s latest novel…Ozeki interconnects zen philosophy, the environmental crisis, a critique of our mass consumer lifestyle and a playful post-modern sensibility—one of the characters is a talking book—within a novel that, for all its wide-ranging intellectual restlessness, remains grounded in its characters’ emotional reality.’

    ‘[It’s hard] not to like Ozeki’s calm, dry, methodical good humour and wit, her love affairs with linguistics and jazz and the absurd, her cautious optimism, her gentle parodies…What she is best at conveying, though, is the tidal flood of human life and the absurd…she makes something so satisfying that it gave me the sense of being addressed not by an author but by a world, one that doesn’t quite exist yet, except in tenuous parallel to ours: a world built out of ideas that spill into the text like a continuous real-time event.’

    ‘There’s powerful magic here…Ozeki is unusually patient with her characters, even the rebarbative ones, and she is able to record the subtle peculiarities of other classes of beings that more overeager writers would probably miss…Ozeki gives us a metaphor for our very own American consumption disorder, our love-hate relationship with the stuff we produce and can’t let go of.’

    ‘A masterful meditation on consumer culture…This novel’s meditative pacing perfectly suits its open-hearted contemplation…The Book of Form and Emptiness is concerned foremost with the outsiders in our world, the ones who hear voices, who are friendless, who fall into addiction and self-harm. It’s concerned, too, with the ultimate outsiders, the objects that we produce and discard, produce and discard. It is both profound and fun, a loving indictment of our consumer culture. As the novel asks the reader turning the pages, ‘has it ever occurred to you that books have feelings, too?’

    ‘[A] tale of sorrow, danger and tentative redemption serves as the springboard for extended meditations on the interdependence of all beings, the magic of books, the disastrous ecological and spiritual effects of unchecked consumerism and more…One of Ozeki’s gifts as a novelist is the ability to enfold provocative intellectual material within a human story grounded in sharply observed social detail…The Book itself has a marvellous voice: adult, ironic, affirming at every turn the importance of books as a repository of humanity’s deepest wisdom and highest aspirations.’

    ‘Ozeki has shifted her readers’ way of perceiving what is ‘normal’ through a sort of slow, capillary action. Her books are not didactic, but they are useful; they’re not mission-driven, but they are richly moral. She writes urgently about the environment—you leave an Ozeki book knowing more about ocean contamination or factory farming—and her novels tend to include a painful parent-child rupture as well as a burbling stream of absurdist humor…Ozeki started writing The Book of Form and Emptiness eight years ago, but it is eerily suited to what readers are going through now, a quantum companion to A Tale for the Time Being: If time is part of healing, sorting through matter—through stuff—is part of mourning.’

    ‘Heartfelt…Ozeki, a practicing Buddhist priest, infuses her story with Zen philosophy, using themes of mindfulness and our connection to the living world to highlight pressing modern concerns like climate change, capitalism and the function of art. Inventive, vivid and propelled by a sense of wonder, The Book of Form and Emptiness will delight younger and older readers alike.’

    ‘I like a novel to grab me and The Book of Form and Emptiness by Ruth Ozeki gave me very peculiar dreams for a long time, as though it did not want to release me to other things.’

    ‘A wry, metafictional take on grief, attachment and growing up.’

    ‘[The Book of Form and Emptiness] is funny, kind, wise, urgent and completely irresistible.’

    ‘Quirky and unique…You find yourself really engrossed in Benny’s world.’

    Other editions ofThe Book of Form and Emptiness
    • The Book of Form and Emptiness
      ISBN: 9781922459541
      28 September 2021
      Buy ebook
    • The Book of Form and Emptiness
      ISBN: 9781922458193
      28 September 2021