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Boxer, Beetle: A Novel Paperback – September 13, 2011
2016 Book Awards
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“A premise as wonderfully outlandish as any we've seen in a long while... oddball and rambunctious... funny, raw and stylish.” ―New York Times
“An ebulliant and thrilling narrative... Irreverent, profane, and very funny. Best of all, [Beauman] writes prose that, like Chabon's, has the power to startle, no small feat in a debut.” ―Publishers Weekly, starred review
“First-novelist Beauman, who is just 26 years old, has concocted a bizarre and funny mystery that is filled with eccentric scholarship... Those seeking something completely different will be amply rewarded.” ―Booklist, starred review
“The story wonderfully mocks eugenics and fascism, while the writing bursts with imaginative metaphors... Quirky, comical, brilliant.” ―Kirkus Reviews
“First novelist Beauman has created a romp across the decades, with quirky characters and a complex, darkly humorous story.” ―Library Journal
“Perhaps the most politically incorrect novel of the decade--as well as the funniest.” ―Sunday Telegraph
“Brilliant… I can only gape in admiration at a new writing force.” ―Daily Mail
“Beauman strides where lesser writers wouldn't dare tiptoe. Maintains a high wire balance between giddy vulgarity, metafiction, and the sadness of being alive.” ―Melvin Jules Bukiet, author of After and Strange Fire
“Witty, erudite… articulate and original…often gobsmackingly smutty.” ―Time Out London
“Frighteningly assured.” ―Independent on Sunday
“Beauman writes with wit and verve.” ―Financial Times
“Prodigiously clever and energetically entertaining.” ―Guardian
“Many first novels are judged promising. Boxer, Beetle arrives fully formed: original, exhilarating, and hugely enjoyable.” ―Sunday Times
“Dazzling…As in P.G. Wodehouse and the early Martin Amis the tone is mischievous and impudent.” ―Daily Express
“A heart-stoppingly creative debut. He snares you with a new hook every page.” ―Simon Rich, author of Ant Farm
“His killer irony evokes early Evelyn Waugh…the funniest new book I've read in a year or two.” ―Independent
“A rambunctious, deftly plotted delight.” ―Observer
About the Author
Ned Beauman was born in 1985 and studied philosophy at Cambridge University. He has written for Dazed & Confused, AnOther Magazine, the Guardian, the Financial Times, and several other magazines and newspapers. He lives in London and is is at work on his second novel. Visit www.boxerbeetle.com.
Top Customer Reviews
I can't say I accomplished this with this particular book.
I don't know that I learned anything from it that I did not know.
But what a fabulous read!
Seldom do I read a book that is beautifully written, full of erudition, and both funny and serious at the same time.
This book accomplishes all this and more -- it's a splendid portrait of the nutty fascist elite of '30's England and its whack eugenics theories;
and it's a wonderful portrait of the working class East End Jewish community of the '30's;
and it's also a wonderful look at collectors of our time, hidden away in their bedroom and basements, searching through the Internet endlessly,
to either find the goods they want, or the people they want to plague.
All together GREAT PLEASURE, GREAT FUN to read!
The story entwines two timelines: one of a Nazi-era entomologist and a young Jewish boxer in Nazi Germany, and the other of a modern-day Nazi memorabilia collector with trimethylaminuria, The story is engaging though can bog down a bit here and there. The story ping-pongs between these two lines, which clearly must be related, but we are given only pieces that don't all fall into place until the end. This is a characteristic of another Beauman book, The Teleportation Accident. After reading that book I thought his style was remarkably similar to Neal Stephenson. Another similarity is that both authors send me on frequent visits to the dictionary, although in Beauman's case much of his vocabulary is peculiar to British English and appears that much more arcane to my American eyes. I discovered only later that in an interview with the Guardian that Beauman said, "...my favourite book when I was growing up, for a long time, was Snow Crash by Neal Stephenson....I'm sure that's found its way permanently into my mode of writing."
Another device used a few times is to show one character's point of view leading to an event, then backtrack and show what was happening at the same time to another character approaching the same event. This is a very effective device when you understand what the author is doing, but there is no clear signal that you have backtracked and are now tracing the same timeline from a different perspective. You don't realize until you have reached the event for a second time that you were seeing another perspective, rather than watching the story marching forward chronologically.
Beauman writes with a sense of humor--sometimes dark--in one case causing us to reel in horror at the deep red stain spreading across a man's chest then revealing it was a wine stain.
My only complaint was a bit of a preoccupation with sex, in this case gay sex. I don't object to sex per se but here it's gratuitous as a recurrent theme. The story did explore the complexities of sex and relationships and sex as a form of power and control but it was a sideshow and the characters and plot would have been none the worse without it.
The book bounces back and forth between current day Great Britain, Britian and the US in the 1930s and even a dip back to the 1880s. Reading the book struck me as an episodic novel on the one hand and reading the numbered paragraphs from works like Nietzsche's Will to Power or Ludwig Wittgenstein's Philosophical Investigations on the other. Within these pages is a thread that examines the quest for (or threat of) order and the capacity of the human spirit to rise above it or sink (or be sunk) below it. The obsession with order has its own chaos, and Beauman charts that period of history where totalitarians ruled much of the Western world. In one of the more engaging paradoxes, Fish's boss is described as liking disruption,
"But disruption of a special sort. We think of disruption as the assault of the scribble into the grid, of the illegible on the legible; what Grublock achieved was exactly the opposite."
The disruption is the imposition of a soulless order--that of the Fascist, the eugenists, the urban planner and the Bauhaus movement (which was flattered by Nazis in their dislike of it).
Out of curiosity, I looked up the online market for Nazi memorabilia and was dumbfounded to find that not only was it thriving (several thousand dollars for an SS Dagger) but most of the Nazi trinkets were sold out. Whether such collectors gather the symbols of Nazism as planting a foot on the neck of a vanquished foe or getting close to a missed opportunity is hard to say. This led me to read Mein Kampf, a book Beauman mentioned several times. It was awful (poorly reasoned and turgid), but the reviews on Amazon.com gave it 90 five-star reviews and only 30 one-star reviews. (Many of the disingenuous 5-star reviews claimed it was an important historical document.) Maybe Beauman is alerting us to a revival of Fascism; it certainly got my attention.
One of the most interesting characters in the book is the boxer, Seth Roach. I wasn't sure if he represented a twisted version of Ernst Röhm, one of the Nazi Sturmabteilung (SA) founders and close friend of Adolph Hitler. Röhm's open homosexuality, along with much of the SA leadership, was a political inconvenience for Nazis, and so Hitler had him and much of the SA murdered in what came to be known as the "The Night of the Long Knives" or Röhm-Putsch. (That Röhm wanted the SA to take over the army played a greater role in the putsch, but many of the Nazis and Wehrmacht were critical of Röhm 's blatant homosexuality which pointed to racial imperfection.) Seth (aka 'Sinner') is a bit sadistic and a bully and "disfigured"--Seth by his diminutive size and Röhm by WWI battle injuries. Alternatively, Seth could have represented everything the Nazis tossed into concentration camps--Jew, homosexual and physical deformation. Seth is taken under the wing of eugenist Phillip Erskine who wants him as a "specimen" for his eugenic experiments with a "super beetle" he's attempting to develop. As a result, Seth "Sinner" Roach is central to the issues that can be raised about Fascism, eugenics and order. He certainly represents disorder.
Throughout the book, you will find philosophical riffs (a memorable one by a New York rabbi) and throwaway observations. Right off the bat, Fishy describes an imagined scene where Hitler throws a surprise party for Joseph Goebbels. It has its own insanity that would be like Magda Goebbels and Eva Braun getting all girlie-girl in planning Eva's wedding to Hitler right before Magda and Eva take their own lives. In another, he describes a night porter who (among other things) can fetch a hooker who looks like Lyudmila Putin Vladimir Putin 's wife). These kinds of observations popup like little gems throughout the book. Similar ironies pepper just about everything that the characters willingly do or unwittingly encounter.
At times, the plot meanders, and while strong at the beginning and neatly tied together at the end it trundles along like an easily distracted boy. However, the distractions are often rewarded by both grainy and clear observations that force the reader to think about things that usually are overlooked; often disastrously so.