The Death of Eli Gold (3 stars)

The Death of Eli Gold

David Baddeil's fictional biography returns to his favourite themes of love, sex and commitment

A comic meditation on the death of ‘the world’s greatest living writer’, the destructive selfishness of male desire and the passing of the last ‘great man’ as a species, David Baddiel’s fourth novel further explores his preoccupations with love, sex and commitment from multiple viewpoints. You soon intuit that the narrative is essentially dictated by the eponymous, coma-held Eli Gold, an American literary leviathan and amalgam of Bellow, Roth, Updike, Miller and Koestler, whose cultural prominence and libidinous insatiability has subsumed, chewed up and spat out the lives of his various wives and children.

But the novel reads less as an elegy for a succumbing übermensch in a New York hospital than a cautionary tale for all pornography-corrupted, middle-aged wrecks like Harvey, son of Eli’s third marriage. Harvey’s is only one perspective though, alongside that of Eli’s first wife seeking news from her nursing home in England, the precocious nine-year-old daughter of his final marriage, and the vengeance-seeking brother of his late fourth wife. Baddiel clearly retains a regard for the old bastard and the supremacy of great art, but his heart lies firmly with those cast off; Eli’s ironic wit is less amusing than Harvey’s grasping weaknesses, the father’s tragedy less noble than that of the pathetic son.

If Baddiel had perhaps stayed the course, opted conclusively neither for love nor literature, forsaken a rather dissatisfying ending featuring a cameo from a former US president, it might have made for a more memorable book. The most compelling passages remain the most tantalisingly opaque, specifically the notes of a police interrogation surrounding a suicide pact, where Baddiel reveals more and yet somehow less of Eli’s conscience, far less than the author permits himself.

Published by Fourth Estate.

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