Book Review: Formaldehyde

Formaldehyde Book Cover Formaldehyde
Jane Rawson
August 23 2015

Formaldehyde is an adorable little book about arm transplants and bureaucracy, two of author, Jane Rawson's favourite topics. The story is a comic, surrealist puzzle about identity. It includes jokes, cats, swear words and some slightly gross bits of anatomical detail. Also, love. It was published by Seizure in August 2015, thanks to winning their Viva la Novella prize. ‘Lives are turned upside down by a bureaucratic error in this Kafkaesque work of neo-absurdism,’ they reckon.


Formaldehyde by Jane Rawson is the story of Amy, Benjamin, Derek and Paul whose interconnected lives are revealed using an unusual time-shifting narrative told over 22 years. Paul discovers one day that he is ‘dead’ and that his father Derek, isn’t actually his father. The fact that Paul is white and his father is black never really occurred to him while he was growing up. As it turns out Benjamin was in the hospital where Derek worked, having an arm transplant, when Derek started developing romantic feelings for her before she suddenly disappears one day. Fast forward 22 years later when Paul meets Benjamin at the Identity Office and they hook up romantically.

It all seems rather convoluted at first but Rawson manages to pull off this complex story which becomes clearer as certain revelations are made and the dots are connected. I totally believed the quirky lives of the characters which reminded me of some of the ‘colourful characters’ I met while living in San Francisco even though the city itself isn’t directly referred to in the text. The story could be set anywhere. There was a certain eeriness, almost Ballardian feel to the story, which was symbolized by the amputated arm and brought into focus by the emptiness and lack of connection that seems to be given off by each of them.

I have to say I was fully drawn into this story with its weird and wacky characters. There was no shortage of black humour and the occasional awkward sex scene which interspersed the sense of desperation and hopelessness that hung over each of their lives. Formaldehyde is a little like life itself … short but wide.

Jane Rawson kindly gave me her book to review and also agreed to be interviewed which you can read here.

Read a free sample of Formaldehyde by Jane Rawson below..