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Boxer, Beetle by Ned Beauman
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Boxer, Beetle By Ned Beauman. This is a novel for people with breeding.
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We hope you are too. Ned Beauman's astonishingly assured debut starts as it means to go on: Many first novels are judged promising. Boxer, Beetle arrives fully formed: There are politics, black comedy, experimentation and wild originality - and I haven't even got to the beetles.
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Its ambitions are enormous, in terms of the range, energy and quality of the writing — Literary Review. As in PG Wodehouse and the early Martin Amis the tone is mischievous and impudent without being merely jaunty or wacky. But the best kind of realism is not the literary equivalent of a new town with too many roundabouts, and signposts that don't allow you to get lost. Great realist fiction has always been about messing with reality — exposing it, heightening it, exploring it, smashing it up a bit, turning it inside out and shaking it to get a better look at it.
It doesn't always have to be "realistic", but it does need to be compassionate, and to acknowledge that, because we are all flawed, no one is a villain.
Boxer, Beetle by Ned Beauman
It's relatively easy to write a clever essay, or a piece of fiction that rejects plot, character and setting. But it takes a real skill to make a tragic hero out of the five-foot, nine-toed, alcoholic Seth Roach, for whom sex is an extension of boxing and "posh cunts" are there to exploit and beat up. Almost everyone else in this novel is even less appealing — in theory — than Seth, but it is possible to identify with all of them and to care about what happens to them next.
Because we are emotionally involved in the drama of the novel and its characters, we can more meaningfully engage with its thematic questions.
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What does it mean to feel you have to hold someone or something in contempt? What is true progress? At Oxford, and I expect at most other universities, a much greater proportion of Firsts are awarded to boys than to girls. And the powers that be thought this was probably because boys have a habit of being so much more arrogant than girls, especially in writing.
Perhaps Boxer Beetle does have an underlying arrogance, but that probably comes across as confidence most of the time, which usually gets very well rewarded indeed. Just think of Martin Amis, for instance. I conclude that if I am to make it in the book world, I shall have to grow a pair.
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