A Light-Hearted Look at Murder (4 stars)

MARK WATSON

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A Light-Hearted Look at Murder (Chatto & Windus)

BLACK COMEDY

(Image: © Emilie Fjola Sandy)

Mark Watson has been described as ‘a Will Self with dignity’. Admittedly, it was in his spoof biography for the BBC2 comedy Time Trumpet. And reading A Light-Hearted Look at Murder, ‘Will Self with humility’ seems rather more appropriate. Watson’s debut novel, Bullet Points, shared Self’s interest in and suspicion of psychiatry and in this new one, he creates a world reminiscent of the lofty curmudgeon’s parallel universes, a more recognisable reality for sure, yet one that’s still only sporadically connected with society in the bleak corners of a tower block, university campus or prison. Nevertheless, his freaks are more human and sympathetic than Self’s grotesques and his sense of moral enquiry more evident.

As one of the UK’s most successful young stand-up comedians, Watson is concerned with the limits of freedom of expression. Here, he embodies this in Andreas, a German postgraduate studying at Cambridge in the 1980s who establishes a relationship and a lookalike agency with Rose, the fifth tallest woman in Great Britain, for which his Adolf Hitler is their star turn. Twenty years on and he’s languishing in prison, his story revealed to his pen-pal Alex, an adrift young woman letting the unfolding tragedy of this unusual couple eclipse her own. Gradually translated from the stilted German by her flatmate, the chapters alternating between Andreas’ past and Alex’s present, it’s a compelling memoir and if the conclusion is somewhat equivocal, Watson’s economic, understated style makes the lead-up by turns unsettling and amusing.

(Jay Richardson)

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