On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous by Ocean Vuong
Published by Jonathan Cape, 2019
My rating: ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐
Vuong’s prior experience as a poet shines from every inch of this debut novel. His command over language, imagery, and the flow of words across a page is phenomenal; undoubtedly the main reason to seek this book out.
That said, there is still a plot to guide us through. Chiefly, our narrator’s efforts to reconcile with his own identity, and to make sense of the fraught relationship dynamics he shares with both his mother and his first love. And though the narrative itself always felt somewhat secondary, it remained no less poignant and emotionally compelling throughout. Indeed, it served as the perfect vehicle to show off Vuong’s writerly prowess, and functioned as an ideal in to the book’s many themes; that of cultural identity, sexuality, toxic masculinity, the inheritance of shame, the pain of intergenerational trauma, the lingering effects of war throughout immigrant families, drug addiction, and the healing power of finding love and acceptance when society has always deemed you ‘other’.
That’s a lot of big, complex issues to tackle in a book that clocks in at around 250 pages, but Vuong’s incisive, eloquent, and compellingly human approach allows him to imbue all of the ideas tackled with suitable nuance and reverence, with nothing feeling forced or underdeveloped. Framed as though an extended letter to his illiterate mother, our narrator is able to pour his heart out in a way otherwise unthinkable. In this respect, there’s a brutality and a rawness to the narration that acts as a perfect foil to the author’s linguistic beauty.
Given the numerous rave reviews I’ve seen for this, it’s fair to say I picked it up with very high expectations, and whilst it was always going to be tough to meet them in every respect, boy did this come close. I can’t wait to try more of Vuong’s work.
You can pick up a copy of On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous from Book Depository by clicking here.