Self Help (3 stars)


Self Help (Picador)


Evidently written with one eye on the literary prizes, Edward Docx’s second novel is an ambitious, cultured affair, but one dragged down by the weight of its own ideas. Set in St Petersburg, London, New York and Paris, it rings with echoes of the old East/West dichotomy, superimposed by the complex relations of the Glover family: mother Masha, her estranged husband Nicholas, and grown twins Gabriel and Isabella. When Masha dies, the children are forced to face down their cruel father (a process complicated by the emergence of mysterious stranger Arkady) and fragile truths are whittled away to reveal a twisted web of deceit.

The book has a distinct lack of forward thrust, however. Intent on meticulously describing in detail every emotion, every thought, every slab of concrete old world and new, Docx renders the story itself second to his prose style. It’s passionate and sweeping but all too heavy, even at the book’s wholly unexpected conclusion.

(Malcolm Jack)

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