I’m not sure where to start with Ned Beauman’s debut novel. Is it a comedy , a modern day thriller , an historical novel, is it a novel of big ideas or of base human vanity. It is a bit of all of these things but also none of them.
It is one of those rare books that satisfies both the need for thought and the need for action. Into a big melting pot are thrown a collector of nazi memorabilia with an unfortunate odour, a 9 toed alcoholic boxer and a sexually confused upper class heir with an unhealthy obsession in eugenics as well as a disturbing type of Beetle. Add in murder, sex, riots, blackmail, politics, race , language and you have a book that fizzes with energy ,and ideas all within 250 pages.
The book flits between 2 ages, a mystery and a chase set in the present day, with a a quest and a mis matched relationship in the 1930s. the book also zips along across continents introducing a range of weird , grotesque , outrageous supporting characters along the way
The clever structure means that the action in the 2 time periods echo and impact on each other. The book is full of ideas with the 1930s and its off kilter science , its upper class Englishmen flirting with fascism especially well drawn.
I did read the book really quickly and part of that is due to the fact you get caught up with the pace of it all , however there is a nagging thought that if you paused you would find the loose thread that would pull the complex plot apart (there are elements that stretch credibility a tad too far)
The only minor criticism is that in tying up all the various plot elements the ending struggles to live up to what has gone before.
If you want a fresh new voice and a book that is tackles the head as much as entertaining the heart then give this a go. I’m looking forward to see what Ned Beauman comes up with next
You can buy Boxer Beetle here
On the other hand I’ve also read Julian Barnes’s short booker nominated novel The Sense of an Ending. This has got rave reviews but I can’t see why. We meet Tom Webster at school as he forms a friendship with Adrian Finn. In middle age we slowly begin to realise that Tony has created his own interpretation of his past and shaped his own memory. a solicitor’s letter send Tom on a journey of discovery to eventually face up to the chain of consequences that a past action has caused. As ever with Julian Barnes (I’ve liked a lot of his previous novels) he writes some interesting ideas - “history is that certainty produced at the point where the imperfections of memory meet the inadequacies of documentation” which pretty much sums up the theme of the novel in in sentence.
My main frustration with the book comes the school and college years. , which were set in the 1970s, 80s and yet felt like the 40s and the 50s. The characters felt so out of time I think I’d have enjoyed the book more if Barnes had set it 30 years earlier. They seemed so far of the mark that it spoilt some of the good passages set in later life. This may have been Barnes’ point again memory is distorted by the narrator giving his 40’s ideas and reflections to the mouth of his teenage self...... or it could simply be that Julian Barnes can’t write a teenage voice. One to miss which means it is a certainty for the booker prize