Thursday, January 31, 2013

Boxer, Beetle

Boxer, Beetle
by Ned Beauman
Published in 2010
Published by Sceptre

Seth 'Sinner' Roach is a five-foot alcoholic gay Jewish boxer in 1930s London. He's a thug whose instinctive dislike of all things intellectual makes things difficult for Dr. Erskine, upper-class British entomologist and Hitler admirer. Erskine, who reflexively spouts anti-Semitic rhetoric and is in denial about his own homosexuality, is captivated by Sinner and wants to use him for his research into eugenics.

Many complications ensue, culminating in a grisly murder at Erskine's family estate.

The story of Sinner and Erskine is pieced together decades later in 21st century London by the book's narrator Kevin, a collector of Hitler memorabilia who suffers from a genetic disorder that causes him to smell like rotten fish all the time, no matter how assiduously he maintains his personal hygiene.

Ned Beauman plays with a lot of well-established cliches relating to the upper crust of British society in Boxer, Beetle, which in the end is a very well-done, weird and slightly surreal black comedy.

Boxer, Beetle was Beauman's first novel. Every so often I enjoy reading a novel that appears to have been written by an author who was attempting to insert as many bizarre things into a narrative as humanly possible and still have it make logical sense. I wouldn't want every bit of fiction I read to lay on so many discrete variations on life's weirdness, but a tour of the bizarre is quite refreshing once in a while.

You'd never guess, even from a detailed plot summary, that the book contains lengthy asides into the world of modern urban planning. As someone who quite enjoys a good organically grown bustling urban neighborhood, I found the description of a poorly designed postwar British planned community to be hilarious.

I came across Ned Beauman's first novel after coming across glowing reviews for his second novel, The Teleportation Accident.  And I bought it for my Kindle upon realizing that it was going for extremely cheap, whereas for The Teleportation Accident they were asking $16.00. I don't doubt for a moment that Amazon set its pricing precisely so that people in my exact situation would do exactly as I did. I cheerfully followed the script that corporate people created. And that's OK. I enjoyed the book that I got out of it.

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