Ned Beauman - Boxer Beetle (4 stars)

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Ned Beauman - Boxer Beetle

(Sceptre)

Not one for the easily shocked, young scribe Ned Beauman subjects the reader to a parade of ghoulish events and ghastly theories throughout his dazzling first novel Boxer Beetle. Admittedly it’s hard work at first, as we’re introduced to a plethora of rather unsavoury characters and whizzed back and forth through time. The present-day tale is narrated by dweeby Nazi memorabilia collector Kevin ‘Fishy’ Broom – his nickname stemming from a bad body-odour problem – and then taken up in the 1930s by virile young Jewish boxer Seth ‘Sinner’ Roach and the socially awkward fascist toff Doctor Erskine who wants to experiment on him.

Links are soon made between the three, and although it’s incredibly modern, the book is jam-packed with historical references and paragraphs laden with complex theories on politics, science, religion and wince-worthy instances of repressed sexuality. Plus there’s beetles. Lots of them. Gritty, intricate plot aside, it’s the way Beauman writes characters that is the most impressive here, as his main men are compellingly tragic, gifted yet incredibly misguided, and all dreaming of achieving greatness; yet Boxer Beetle is ultimately a tale of failure and sad lives half-lived.

It’s this clever mix coupled with Beauman’s darkly funny depictions and sharp way with words that save this debut novel from ever becoming overly harrowing despite its frequent squeamish encounters. Clearly deeply researched and punchily written, this is an utterly unique work that marks the London-based author out as an exciting new voice in fiction.

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