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.
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]