Jamie O'Neill loves the colour red. He also loves tall trees, patterns, rain that comes with wind, the curvature of many objects, books with dust jackets, cats, rivers and Edgar Allan Poe. At age thirteen, there are two things he especially wants in life: to build a Perpetual Motion Machine, and to connect with his mother, Noelle, who died when he was born. In his mind these things are intimately linked. And at his new school, where all else is disorientating and overwhelming, he finds two people who might just be able to help him. How to Build a Boat is the story of how one boy and his mission transforms the lives of his teachers, Tess and Tadhg, and brings together a community.
Atmospheric ... Feeney effortlessly combines the overwhelming ebb and flow of life with her boat-building plot ... Feeney’s prose is both careful and relaxed — detailed in its description of place and character and of the effortful human urge to find order in the natural world; casual in its approach to storytelling, the point of view shifting throughout scenes ... In some places, the novel stumbles ... Yet the difficult winter carries the reader into a hopeful spring. Life is random; our connections are as essential and uncontrollable as the tides, the book seems to say. All we can do is learn how to float.
Perfectly fine ... Why doesn’t Feeney’s second novel...quite take off? Perhaps it’s because the characters all feel reliant on broad single personality traits ... The subplots and side characters are left underdeveloped ... Readers in search of something warm but a bit literary might like it a lot. It’s just that its odd inclusion on the Booker list (I reckon the judges wanted to throw something cuddly in with all the heavy stuff) came at the expense of a lot of better books.