Boxer Beetle; Ned Beauman; Sceptre; 2011
Book Summary(taken from Amazon UK): This is a novel for people with breeding. Only people with the right genes and the wrong impulses will find its marriage of bold ideas and deplorable characters irresistible. It is a novel that engages the mind while satisfying those that crave the thrill of a chase.
There are riots and sex. There is love and murder. There is Darwinism and Fascism, nightclubs, invented languages and the dangerous bravado of youth. And there are lots of beetles.
It is clever. It is distinctive. It is entertaining.
We hope you are too.
Please note this book is intended for a 16+ audience
Literature for Lads Review:
‘Boxer Beetle’ is Ned Beauman’s debut novel and has evidenced by the ‘blurb’which appears on the back of the book, it’s a little different! Discussing themes as far reaching as Anti-Semitism, Eugenics and Nazism, not to mention the Class System and New Towns this book is far from your average novel. The fact that it comes from a first time novelist, who is only 26, should make you stop and think a little as you start your reading journey.
The book has two narratives running through it, one set in present day England, the other set in England just before the outbreak of the Second World War. In the present day storyline Nazi memorabilia collector Kevin (who suffers from a very unfortunate medical condition) becomes embroiled in a violent adventure to recover a Nazi artefact.
Back in the 1930’s Philip Erskine, a private school educated scientist with an interest in Eugenics, becomes involved in a relationship with the talented Jewish boxer from London’s East End, Seth ‘Sinner’ Roach. As the book progresses Beuman begins to link the stories together as we learn that the Nazi artefact at the heart of Kevin’s adventure, was initially discovered by Phillip Erskine.
There is no doubt that this is an interesting book and it is clear that Beauman most definitely has a talent. However as a novel it doesn’t quite work for me. The historical story is definitely the strongest part of the novel. It has a cast of intriguing characters; Seth ‘Sinner’ Roach is brash, violent, and at times just nasty. Philip Erskine is an eccentric scientist, in denial of his sexuality, yet yearning after Sinner. And let’s not forget Millicent Erskine, a minor character in the book but one who is guaranteed to make you laugh out loud with her various quips.
The Modern day storyline in contrast is rather disappointing. It appears infrequently in the book making it hard to follow what has happened previously. It’s difficult to like the main character Kevin (and not because of the peculiar smell emanating from him) as we know so little about him. He is one dimensional, self pitying and with very few redeeming features. I almost feel the book would have worked without the modern day second narrative due to the strength of the Historical story.
‘Boxer, Beetle’ is definitely not your average book. It will make you think and may even educate you as you read it. Beauman’s research is meticulous and the the sense of the Britain in the 1930’s is wonderfully evoked. The characters in the book are, on the whole far from likeable, and at times frankly offensive. The book includes some rather offensive language and some scenes which many will find distasteful. However I’m pretty sure that Beauman wants us to be challenged and feel uneasy reading his novels. He may not be out to offend but he is definitely out to make us think.
This book will not be for everyone but if you are looking for something a little different from the supermarket sold, formulaic fiction currently proliferating bookshops bookshelves, give this debut author a go.
Marks out of 10: 6
I was invited by the Scottish Book Trust to talk about ‘Boxer, Beetle’ as part of their Book Talk Podcast series along with Peggy Hughes from the Edinburgh’s City of Literature Trust. If you would like to hear Peggy and I in discussion, along with host Paul Gallagher, click here.
And thank you to Scottish Book trust for providing me with a copy of the book!
Here is Ned talking about ‘Boxer, Beetle’…
For more information on Ned Beauman visit here and to visit the ‘Boxer, Beetle’ mini site click here