Verbal pyrotechnics

2010-11-17 00:00

THINK Tom Sharpe meets Martin Amis, and you will get some idea of this extraordinary novel. But its author is only 24, which perhaps explains some of its juvenile features and also its startling vitality, inventiveness and sheer cheek.

Its complicated plot involves two time-planes: the present and the mid-1930s. There’s a considerable cast of characters in both eras, mostly unsavoury or pathetic, and many of them Nazi sympathisers or at least collectors of Nazi memorabilia. It involves intricate search-and-revenge schemes (on one level it is a mystery-thriller), and has a climax in the present that is as stomach-heaving as it is spectacular. And one of its main characters is a boxer, while another is involved in mutating beetles. Hence the title.

The boxer is Seth Roach (note the surname), usually known as ‘Sinner’ (no comment), and there you have him: in full, he is a homosexual Jewish psychopath. All three of those facts about him explain much of what happens in the novel, but obviously it is only the third which renders him such a totally dislikeable figure. His ghastly fate at the end feels richly deserved. But he is little of an improvement on any of the other characters, except perhaps the modern narrator, who is moderately sympathetic.

Gross events abound; and by the end I had a nagging urge to go and brush my teeth.

I had very mixed feelings about this book. At the end of it, I felt like asking that dreaded question: “So what?” Often, the novel feels like a mostly clever piece of verbal pyrotechnics which, for all its frequent glances at social and political issues, and in spite of one very moving and therefore inappropriate section near the end, has nothing of great value to offer. That said, the pyrotechnics are good: Beauman is often very witty, sharply satirical, graphic and sometimes even borders on the lyrical; and I can’t pretend to have been bored in the reading.

With advancing maturity he may come up with something less nihilistic and more substantial. He certainly has the verbal equipment for the job.

David Pike

BOOK REVIEW

Boxer Beetle

Ned Beauman

Sceptre

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