Sunday, September 6, 2015

Boxer, Beetle, by Ned Beauman - review

Rating: 4/5

The story starts with Nazi memorabilia collectors before diving into 1936 and a 5-foot, 9-toed, gay Jewish boxer on his way to a world title match in New York, and his meeting with a fascist entomologist who is fascinated by his achievements in regard to his physical attributes.

This novel is a bizarre patchwork of genres. The action in the present is pretty funny, the main character and narrator suffering with trimethylaminuria, a condition that makes him urine-stinky to the point of not having a social life beyond the forums where he trades in his Nazi memorabilia. When the novel plunges into 1936, it becomes a historical reenactment of the upsurge of eugenics, applied Darwinism and British fascism. It is also a psychological portrait of two characters. First the Jewish boxer, his innate violence and the environment in which it allowed him to rise, and then the entomologist who in his headlong rush to acquire the boxer, doesn’t (or can’t) identify the true nature of his attachment to the boy. These different genres create breathing space from each other and add to the pace of the narrative as it unfolds and considerably complexifies, ultimately binding together the Darwinism, the eugenics, the insects and the fascism quite coherently.

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