Vulpes Libris

A collective of bibliophiles talking about books. Book Fox (vulpes libris): small bibliovorous mammal of overactive imagination and uncommonly large bookshop expenses. Habitat: anywhere the rustle of pages can be heard.

Boxer, Beetle by Ned Beauman: an author to watch

This is a novel for people with breeding. Only people with the right genes and the wrong impulses will find its marriage of bold ideas and deplorable characters irresistible. It is a novel that engages the mind while satisfying those that crave the thrill of a chase. There are riots and sex. There is love and murder. There is Darwinism and Fascism, nightclubs, invented languages and the dangerous bravado of youth. And there are lots of beetles. It is clever. It is distinctive. It is entertaining. We hope you are too.

Yes, well. As you can imagine, that irritating puff-blurb had me foaming at the mouth. Quite honestly, if I’d picked it up in a bookshop (rather than receiving it as a review copy from Sceptre) I’d have dropped it instantly back on the shelf with a groan. Which is a shame as this is a gripping and off-the-wall book from a young and talented author, and I can’t help feeling this sort of blurb can’t really be helping his new career much. Why not keep it simple, publishers? Give us a real blurb, with maybe some judicious and sensible review quotes, and we’ll be happy. Honest.

The good thing is however that on Ned Beauman’s website, there’s a very useful link to an article in The Bookseller which does give a decent, if short, blurb (scroll down to view). Thus giving you some kind of practical idea about the book. Phew. I wonder indeed, if this sort of marketing approach continues, whether in the future proper blurb-writing will in fact fall to the reviewer. Heck, someone has to do it …

Anyway, gripe over. Much to my surprise, I thoroughly enjoyed this novel, though I frankly wasn’t expecting to. Mainly because of the subject matter – I’m not usually at my best with politics, or indeed fascism. Who is? But there’s something about the energy of the language here that slaps you in the face and demands your attention from the very first sentence. You’re instantly sucked into a larger-than-life world that’s strangely more-ish, and it doesn’t let you go until the very end either.

Beauman is also very skilled in depicting character, and very peculiar character at that. I found myself desperately wanting to learn more about Kevin, the present-day Nazi memorabilia collector with the genetic body odour problem and no friends, and the 1930s characters, Philip Erskine, the deeply confused fascist, and “Sinner”, the short-in-stature prize fighter, were hugely entertaining too. It’s a testament to the author’s undoubted talent that he takes three such unprepossessing people, and makes them completely endearing. Where many other more experienced writers have failed, Beauman also manages to take his political themes and humanise them with great subtlety and depth. Never, I suspect, has fascism been so entertaining and so bizarre. The author cleverly undermines the whole concept through the use of irony; really, it’s almost Byronic.

In addition, the difference in times between the 1930s and the present-day scenes is well handled, and the plots and connections dovetail together excellently. Part of this connection is structured by use of the crime that kick-ass (if smelly …) Kevin discovers, and which is linked with a crime committed in the 1930s, so in some sense the book becomes at the same time a historical and contemporary thriller, whilst being always more than the sum of its parts.

So. I can’t quote you anything unfortunately as I read a proof copy but trust me that the language used here is bright and sassy and brave, and absolutely fitted to the author’s purpose. As well as being incredibly gripping. I also learnt a lot about the world of Nazi memorabilia collectors and 1930s fascism. Not to mention prize fighting, beetles, how languages are created and exactly how many inventions you can include in a house. So my dinner party conversation topics in the future have been much enhanced (which will come as a relief to those of my friends who still dare to invite me out anywhere) and in a gloriously light way too. Oh and there are some truly great sections involving those marvellous beetles – who play a key role in the crime scenes. Say no more … It’s mad, it’s possibly crazed beyond belief, it’s very clever, very sharp, very human, all at the same time, and I loved it. What could be more enjoyable? So my wholehearted advice is ignore that pesky blurb, buy the book, sit back and enjoy. You’ll never look at fish in the same way again.

Boxer, Beetle, Sceptre Press 2010, ISBN: 978 034 0998 397

[Anne is rather suspicious of any kind of beetle but can’t help warming to quirkiness and sheer pizzazz. To discover an insect-free zone, please click here]

About annebrooke

Anne Brooke lives in Surrey, UK, and writes in a variety of genres, including gay erotic romance, fantasy, comedy, thrillers, biblical fiction and the occasional chicklit novel. When not writing, she spends time in the garden attempting to differentiate between flowers and weeds, and in the allotment attempting to grow vegetables. Occasionally, she can also be found in the kitchen making cakes. Every now and again, they are edible. Her websites can be found at: www.annebrooke.com, www.gayreads.co.uk, www.biblicalfiction.co.uk and www.gathandria.com (for fantasy fiction).

16 comments on “Boxer, Beetle by Ned Beauman: an author to watch

  1. Hilary
    August 19, 2010

    Great review, Anne! 🙂 I far preferred your reasons for reading the book to the blurb-writer’s.

  2. annebrooke
    August 19, 2010

    Thanks, Hilary! And yes indeed – that blurb is shockingly bad and in very bad taste too. I really hope Sceptre nip this new fashion in the bud pretty quickly (if you remember they did the same ghastly blurb in Chris Cleave’s The Other Hand, though there I did understand their reasons due to the bad writing). Here, however, they’re doing a young and very good author down and that’s a shame …

    I think it’s a brilliant book, as you may have gathered from my review!

    Anne
    xxx

  3. lisa
    August 19, 2010

    I’m reading and enjoying Boxer, Beetle at the moment. I must admit that i saw the blurb, such as it is, as a bit of a pisstake. A tongue-in-cheek reference to the eugenics stuff. Although i do agree that it doesn’t give the prospective reader much to go on. Beauman is an astonishingly talented writer. I love the weirdness of his prose and the wildness of his storytelling. Thanks for the great review, Anne.

  4. annebrooke
    August 19, 2010

    Thanks, Lisa – pleased you’re enjoying the book! Yes, the blurb probably is a piss-take, but still a hugely irritating one, I think!

    🙂

    Anne

  5. lisa
    August 19, 2010

    I meant to say… I’ve been looking forward to this review as I was so curious to hear what you made of this one. As you know, Anne, I initially got into quite a muddle after the first few chapters (due mostly to my stubborn refusal to use a bookmark) but thank you for encouraging me to carry on with it. It’s given me many a chuckle over the past few weeks.

    I read the article you linked to, Anne, and noticed that the publisher paid big bucks for this. I think The Other Hand was another big investment for this publisher, so perhaps this kind of gimmicky blurb is something they reserve for lead titles?

    I’ve never been fond of beetles (creepy shininess) but am now viewing them in a new light…

  6. annebrooke
    August 19, 2010

    I hadn’t seen that, Lisa – you may well be right! Such a shame that money messes things up so, deep deep sigh …

    😦

    Anne

  7. kirstyjane
    August 19, 2010

    That blurb made me queasy. If I had only that to go on, I would be extremely disinclined to read the book… it seems so condescending. They no doubt intended it differently, but it comes across very much as “You have to be deemed cool by us in order to read this” or worse “if you don’t like this, you’re clearly not cool at all and we’re just too funky, avant-garde and altogether awesome for a pleb like yourself”. Ick ick ick ick ick.

    Luckily I have your review to go on, Anne – you’re a far more reliable (and entertaining) source of potentially fun books.

  8. annebrooke
    August 19, 2010

    You flatter me, Kirsty! But I love it, thank you! 🙂

    Anne

  9. Jackie
    August 19, 2010

    This doesn’t sound like one for me, but I do applaud the uniqueness of a new writer. Your enthusiasm really come through, Anne & it sounds like a hard book to describe, but you did a good job keeping everything clear in the review.

  10. annebrooke
    August 19, 2010

    Thanks, Jackie.

    🙂

    Anne

  11. Moira
    August 20, 2010

    S-o-o-o … let me get this right. The blurb is actually ‘cleverly’ referencing the book in some way, but unless you read the book, you’re not going to know that, and the blurb is in no way designed to endear itself to you, so you’re not likely to read the book to find out how ‘clever’ the blurb is?

    When you see your own foot, shoot it?

    Although I don’t know that it sounds like the sort of book I’d choose to snuggle down with, it does sound intriguingly different, and I hope he transcends the dorks he’s landed as publishers.

  12. annebrooke
    August 20, 2010

    Exactly so, Moira, and you put it so well! I hope the same for Beauman too.

    Anne
    xxx

  13. Nikki
    August 20, 2010

    I have to admit that that blurb set my teeth on edge too. Based on that I rubbed my hands together and thought “Oooo, Anne’s going to rip this apart!” So the fact that you didn’t only makes me more intrigued to read it!

  14. annebrooke
    August 20, 2010

    Glad to intrigue you, Nikki, tee hee! It’s a great book mismatched with an appalling blurb (which I would indeed like to rip to shreds big-time!), sadly!

    🙂

    Anne

  15. Gerwrote
    October 15, 2011

    Blurb isn’t a blurb at all, nor is it a piss-take exactly. It’s clearly written by the author himself and is consequently as much a part of the book as the chapters and characters inside. That’s why it’s on the inside cover (in my copy anyway) and not printed on the back.

    Where the ‘blurb’ lives.

  16. Anne Brooke
    October 15, 2011

    Hmm, definitely needs my proper blurb then. For the actual … um blurb 🙂 It’s such a shame if this one loses readers as nobody can tell what it’s about. Each to their own though!

    Anne

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This entry was posted on August 19, 2010 by in Entries by Anne, Fiction, Fiction: 20th Century, Fiction: 21st Century, Fiction: literary and tagged , .

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