51 pages • 1 hour readAnonymous
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Diary of an Oxygen Thief was published anonymously in 2006. This novel is a work of fiction, although the author does try to confuse the audience in this respect, as both the author and the narrator are unnamed. Nonetheless, the novel is indeed fiction, as the author and the narrator are not the same individuals. The narrator is an Irish advertising executive living in London. The book chronicles his relationships with women, many of whom he believes he has psychologically traumatized, as well as one woman, Aisling, who he feels is his karmic retribution for having treated women so poorly.
The narrative begins with the narrator explaining how he likes to hurt women psychologically. He talks about his longest relationship with a woman, named Penelope, who he believes he really did love. However, he gets bored of her and finds her to get in the way of his drinking and cheating on her, dismantling their relationship piece by piece. He then spirals into alcoholism, wherein he begins to psychologically traumatize women just for the fun of it. He goes through a series of women, essentially trying to get them to fall in love with him and then ignoring them/ghosting. Eventually, he invites these women to his thirtieth birthday party but gets so drunk he cannot remember anything. He gets into many drunken bar fights though these are not so much fights as him mouthing off to large men and then getting his injured. He even hits a girl once, which may or may not be the reason he decides to join AA.
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The narrator enters into AA, finds a stable job as an advertising executive, and stays away from women for five years. He works on improving his career, eventually moving to Saint Lacroix, Minnesota to do so. He buys a house there and ends up getting stuck, realizing that he hates this job, as well as Midwesterners. He starts looking for a way out; on one business trip to New York, he meets Aisling, a beautiful, young photographer’s assistant. After they have sex, he falls in love with her, although she seems lukewarm at best towards him. He claims she convinces him to move to New York, although there doesn’t seem to be any evidence to support this. Once in New York, and still at the job that he hates, he begins to pursue her shamelessly, and she treats him very coldly. He believes she is toying with his emotions and using him as the tragic subject of her art, a book of photographs. At the end of their so-called relationship, she takes him to a bar and has a male friend humiliate him and try to get into a fight with the narrator, which she photographs. The narrator realizes that she hates him. He writes this book in the hopes that it will be published before her photos, to palliate the humiliation he feels.
The novel is told retrospectively, as the narrator looks back at his actions after he has been hurt. The narrator’s writing of the novel takes place eight years after his entry into AA and about two years after his alleged relationship with Aisling has been terminated. While this retrospection allows the narrator to reflect on various aspects of both his behavior and his relationships, it also is partially responsible for the disbelief the audience feels towards the narrative. The narrator does not seem to be trustworthy, mostly due to his apathy towards other people. Similarly, he is also incredibly narcissistic and believes that the world revolves around him. He believes he is the most important person and thinks that other people believe this as well. As such, the audience is disinclined to believe some of his suppositions about how deeply he hurt these women, especially when the narrator himself sometimes slips up and admits that this may not be the case. It is also easy to believe that the narrator has blown his so-called relationship with Aisling way out of proportion, and that the reason she acts so cruelly towards him is because he is a creepy older guy who becomes obsessed with her. The narrator also admits that he experiences bouts of paranoia, further problematizing the relative truth of his narrative.
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Most of the narrative is told in the first-person point of view of the narrator, which coincides with his absolute narcissism. Because he is self-centered, he feels the need to make other people understand him, inflicting his point of view upon his audience. However, he also often addresses his audience, breaking the barrier between himself and the audience. This tendency to speak to his audience is reiterated by the narrator’s obsession with pop culture and the media, especially with television shows and movies. The narrator believes himself to be a kind of protagonist within his very own tragedy, and often creates his life as though it were being filmed. The last section features a trifurcated point of view, in which the narrator becomes the second-person audience, the third-person protagonist, and the first-person narrator/director. In this way, the narrator slips between points of view in order to present himself as omnipresent and align himself with divinity.
The novel is divided into three chapters. The first chapter sets up the story and presents the narrator’s narcissism. The second chapter details the narrator’s descent into and subsequently out of alcoholism, and his treatment of and then abstention from women, when he moves to Saint Lacroix. The third and final chapter engages the narrator’s relationship with Aisling and the pain she causes him. The narrator references Dante’s Divine Comedy in the final pages, leading the audience to believe that the triple structure might mimic the classic text, albeit in an opposite manner: instead of ascending from Hell to Heaven, as it were, the narrator seems to believe he descends to Hell, substantiating his belief in the epic tragedy of his narrative.