Book Review: Want Not by Jonathan Miles

Posted January 13, 2014 by LeahAdmin in Reviews / 18 Comments

Book Review: Want Not by Jonathan Miles
Want Not by Jonathan Miles
Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt on Nov. 5, 2013
Pages: 389
Genres: Fiction
Format: Hardcover
Source: Purchased

I picked up a signed copy of this book at the fabulous Fountain Bookstore in Richmond, VA after Shannon of River City Reading selected it as one of her favorite books of the year. It came out in November, amid the holidays and end-of-year lists, and I think it got a little bit overlooked. I’m so glad I bought a copy of Want Not, which I hadn’t heard of until my visit to RVA. It really is a fantastic book, and it made my best of 2013 list!

Set in and around present-day New York City, Want Not follows three storylines about characters who are finally connected at the end of the novel. There’s a freegan couple squatting in an abandoned building; a sleezy debt-acquisitions tycoon, his trophy wife, and troubled step daughter; and an aging linguist struggling with the dissolution of his marriage and his father’s fading health.

Each of these characters deal with waste and the constant strive for more. The couple living off the grid object to America’s rampant consumerism, which creates enough waste for entire third-world countries to live on, and so they drop out of this society completely. They squat in an abandoned building and forage for food and clothing, surviving on society’s excess. The debt-acquisitions man has been corrupted by greed, his wife compromises herself for her comfortable lifestyle, and his teenage step daughter is unable to cope with a difficult reality. The linguist finds himself on a government team charged with creating signage for a nuclear waste dump — signage that must last 10,000 years, during which time all current languages will die out.

Based on what I’ve written so far, Want Not sounds like a really grim novel, but here’s the kicker: it’s actually not. Although parts of this book are heartbreaking, Jonathan Miles is a really funny writer. For each sad moment, there is an equally witty, absurd, hilarious one. And although this is a book about waste, it manages to avoid being at all preachy.

The writing is superb. After reading a few sub-par books, reading the first few pages of Want Not felt like sinking into a warm bath. “Ah, yes. That’s better.” Miles knows how to craft a sentence, and I loved every moment of this book. It’s expertly written, raises some thought-provoking issues without being heavy-handed, and it just… you guys. This book is GOOD. I don’t know how else to say it: Read this book.

I’m a sucker for books that portray characters living separate lives and then reveal connections between them, and I was wondering throughout the novel how Miles would bring them all together. The connection turned out to be a little weak for my taste, but this is my only complaint about this otherwise incredible, compelling novel. Overall, I  loved Want Not and can’t wait to read more of Miles’ work.

  • This sounds like one I would like – thanks!

    • I’m going to have to add this to my Amazon Wish List after reading your review. I also love books that show how people are connected in strange and complicated ways. Thanks for sharing this!

      • It’s so so so good! I hope you enjoy it!

  • I’m so glad you ended up enjoying this one. I never thought I would fall in love with it as much as I did, but I was just so impressed by Miles’ ability to really get inside each of his characters. Such a great book.

  • Ok, you’ve got me. Next time I happen to the store I’ll pick it up. I’ve been reading a few reviews on it and each one pulled me on a little. I love when characters are connected at the end of a story.

  • Oy… I don’t know!! As I told Shannon, the thought of characters digging through a dumpster makes me squeamish and just… plot-wise I don’t know if this’ll be a good fit for me, but because of the writing and characterization I just might have to read this!

    • Hahaha there are some really gross descriptions of mushy vegetables 😛

  • |WANT NOT really surprised me as well. I didn’t think i would like it as much as i did, but it was great. I haven’t read his other books but i’m going to give it a go.

  • I’ve heard so many great things about this book! I can’t wait until my copy comes in from the library.

  • I keep hearing wonderful things about this book, but describing it as a warm bath just makes it sound indulgent and delicious.

    • Oh, now I’m all nervous that I used the wrong words. The story isn’t like a warm bath, but the writing is lovely?

  • “I’m a sucker for books that portray characters living separate lives and then reveal connections between them” – Me too! Although this can seem a bit too neat for some people, I love books like this 🙂

    • I’d never thought of it as being “neat.” I like wondering how it will come together; there are other types of endings I find too neat.

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