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The Insult Paperback – July 29, 1997
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If you haven't discovered the black-magic world of British novelist Rupert Thomson, this quality paperback edition of his psychological thriller, The Insult, is a fine point of entry. There are elements of both Franz Kafka and Raymond Chandler in the story, as Martin Blom--blinded by a shot to the head in a supermarket parking lot--finds out one night that he can actually see. Is it a result of what his doctors insist is a delusion often suffered by the newly blinded? Or does it have something to do with a bizarre experiment hidden in a secret file in a part of the hospital he accidentally stumbles upon? Martin is soon living on his own in a seedy hotel, using his unique night vision to explore adventures--social, criminal, and sexual--totally new to him. If The Insult gets you hooked on Thomson, Air & Fire is also available.
From the Inside Flap
in the dark side of the brain--full of grief and deliciously strange comedy. I've never read anything like it."
With this eerie, provocative, and utterly original novel, Rupert Thomson takes the psychological thriller into unexplored territory. Martin Blom is walking toward his car in a supermarket parking lot when a single random bullet pierces his brain. From that moment he is blind--his doctor says permanently. But then one evening Martin discovers what is either a genuine miracle or a delusion suffered occasionally by the newly blind: in the dark, he can see.
Armed with this ambiguous gift, Thomson's protagonist enters a nocturnal world of strip clubs and sleazy hotels. In that world, an alluring young woman may give herself to the one man she thinks is unable to see her, only to vanish inexplicably. In that world, a blind man may become a murder suspect. And in the gorgeously disorienting world of The Insult, reality itself is a con
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This is the fourth Thomson novel that I've read, and I continue to be fascinated by him as a writer and by his work. This holds true even when I find his experiments a tad less successful than they should be.
The Insult is a wonderful idea that never quite gets itself off the ground to resolve into a coherent whole. When the protagonist of the novel (Blom) is shot, leading to irreversable blindness, his doctor warns him of a condition called Anton's Syndrome. In Anton's Syndrome, blind people believe they can actually see. When Blom realizes that he can see at night, despite being told his vision loss is total, he takes himself on a mission of escape. He disappears into a world of circus clowns, hotel brothels and other beautiful and strange sights to which those of us who only have day vision can never see.
When his lover in this strange new place disappears as well, the mission turns into one of location rather than disappearance.
The book is structured in three major sections: Nightlife, Carving Babies, and Silver Skin. Each section is brilliant and haunting in its own way. The great flaw of the book is that these ways do not really hang together. It's a wonderful idea for a book in search of someplace to go. Not unlike Blom, I suppose. So perhaps they do hang together? In any case, for me it missed some sense of unity and conclusion.
I was a little bit surprised to see that the reissue of this book is published under the Vintage Crime imprint. If you are considering this book and unclear about what it is, please be warned that it is a long long way away from a detective story. Even Robbe-Grillet is more straightforward. Really.
In pure terms, I would be most likely to give this book three stars. I am giving it four stars because of my admiration for the project.
My favorite Thomson book remains The Five Gates of Hell. I think that it is the most successful of all his experiments. That may say more about me than about him-- it is impossible for me to say for certain. I will keep reading his books. There are very few writers who are so inventive.
I titled this review with a Thomson quotation, and let me end it with one as well. It is taken from an interview that he did after the release of The Insult:
"I want to be able to look at reality from a standpoint that feels unpredictable, surreal, and yet, at the same time, entirely cogent. I seem to be attracted to ideas that allow me to do this."
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An abstract, beautifully compelling mystery thriller.Read more