“Boxer, Beetle” by Ned Beauman

Book coverWikipedia says that this novel was first published in 2010 and that it was shortlisted for the Guardian First Book Award in 2010.

The novel contains two linked stories, one occurring in modern day London and the other in 1930’s England. We start in 2010 with a Nazi memorabilia collector, nicknamed “Fishy” because of a rare medical condition that causes him to smell this way. Fishy discovers a note from Adolf Hitler to a Doctor Erskine, thanking him for a mysterious gift. Fishy resolves to find out about the gift but has to deal with increasingly worrying circumstances that culminate in a meeting with a Welsh hitman. This story line alternates with an account of Erskine’s research into eugenics and his relationship with an aggressive, homosexual and nine-toed boxer called Seth Roach.

The novel has received a number of encouraging reviews.

Writing in The GuardianScarlett Thomas says:

“It’s clear from this compelling debut that Beauman can perform the complicated paradoxical trick required of the best 21st-century realist novelists: to take an old and predictable structure and allow it to produce new and unpredictable connections.”

Whilst over at The TelegraphAnna Swan is of the opinion that: 

“Boxer, Beetle is an edifying treatise on the absurdity of eugenics and racial theories, and probably the most politically incorrect novel of the decade – as well as the funniest.”

We read this in June 2014, when eleven people gathered at the meeting.

Our readers were less impressed than the critics. Generally speaking the book was, at best, partially liked. In many cases the novel was actively disliked – to the extent that several people couldn’t get past 20 or 30 pages.

Almost everyone disliked the foul language and several thought that the author had tried to pack in too many ideas purely for the sake of it. Readers also disliked the casual cruelty, the ugliness, and the way that gay sex was portrayed.

Looking for positives, one reader thought that the plot was clever and liked the way that everything was tied up at the end. Another felt there were some good metaphors and similes and a third found that the book had an interesting style.

Not surprisingly, individual scores were low, ranging  from 2 to 5. Overall, our group gave this  a score of 3.6 out of 10 (based on 11 readers).

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