Beauman, Ned. “Boxer, Beetle: A Novel”, Bloomsbury USA, 2011.
Don’t misinterpret my title of this review to be negative because that is not what it means at all. We tend to think of outlandish in negative terms and I am not using it negatively here.
We meet Kevin “Fishy” Broom who has a rare condition that causes all of his body secretions to smell like rotten fish. Because of that he does not go out much and stays in his apartment in London and surfs the internet for Nazi memorabilia. He finds himself at a crime scene and into following some small-time criminals—Philip Erskine a, fascist entomologist whose dream is to breed a beetle as a tribute to Hitler yet also thinking of other projects he can become involved in. He has some very strange ideas about eugenics. We also meet Seth Roach, a gay Jewish boxer known as Roach and with a passion for destruction. Erskine is obsessed with him.
The book is shortlisted for the Guardian Book Award and I will vouch for its originality and the style with which is written and it is the outlandishness that makes this such a good read. The more I think about that word “outlandish”, I think that perhaps “eccentric” might be a better word. The plot moves back and forth between today and the 1930’s. Evident is the anti Semitism of England in all of its ugliness.
The plot is clever and the writing is excellent. The author has a wonderful command of the language and uses it throughout. It is even more interesting when we consider that this is the author’s first book and that he is only 26. What I particularly liked was that we are given a look at the way people think and to me that is always a plus.
The 1930’s section is primarily about the eugenics movement but it is also about anti-Semitism, brutality, and scientific discovery. There are a lot of characters and almost no predictability. I do have one problem and that is the way the book ended and I realize that may be my own personal feeling. I am sure that some may find the ending perfect. This is a book that will be talked about for a long time and is a breath of fresh air to those of us who read all of the time.