Book choice for January 2012

Boxer, Beetle [suggested by Helen Dobson]

front cover

This first novel moves between the present day and England a few years before the Second World War. Kevin, a collector of Nazi memorabilia and the sufferer of a very unpleasant medical condition, is sucked into a dangerous adventure, as he tries to unravel a seventy-year old mystery involving beetles, boxers, eugenics, and fascists.

Among the book's great characters, are an upper-class entomologist, a beautiful but violent Jewish boxer, and a spirited composer of atonal music who longs to escape from her family so she can go to a big city and learn to be witty, ironic, and brittle. Some of these people may not be particularly likeable (although one does warm to Seth 'Sinner' Roach, the boxer) but they are always interesting, and are treated with enough depth that, as well a being repelled, one also feels compassion when faced with their flaws, failings, and delusions.

'Boxer Beetle' displays a great depth of learning and the reader learns about invented languages, anti-Semitism in England and America before the war, and the battle of Cable Street among other things. The recreation of thirties England feels perfect.

In conclusion this book is funny, exciting, and clever; telling its story with confidence and verve, whilst never becoming pretentious or vacuous. ["Eleanor" from Amazon - other reviewers not so positive]

Wikipedia entry.
Novel's own website.

About the Author

Author's blog (sporadic updates).

 

Shortlisted for this month

Book selectors can bring one, two or three books for selection, although it's usual to bring three. This month Helen's selections were:

Oracle Night

Oracle Night

This novel was first suggested in May 2011, and full details of both the book and the author will be found there.

About the Author

Wikipedia page.
Author's website.

Any Human Heart

Any Human Heart

Wikipedia page.
Channel 4 TV adaptation. (which also has an entry on IMDb)

Logan Gonzago Mountstuart, writer, was born in 1906, and died of a heart attack on October 5, 1991, aged 85. Any Human Heart is his disjointed autobiography, a massive tome chronicling "my personal rollercoaster"--or rather, "not so much a rollercoaster", but a yo-yo, "a jerking spinning toy in the hands of a maladroit child". From his early childhood in Montevideo, son of an English corned beef executive and his Uraguayan secretary, through his years at a Norfolk public school and Oxford, Mountstuart traces his haphazard development as a writer. Early and easy success is succeeded by a long half-century of mediocrity, disappointments and setbacks, both personal and professional, leading him to multiple failed marriages, internment, alcoholism and abject poverty.

Mountstuart's sorry tale is also the story of a British way of life in inexorable decline, as his journey takes in the Bloomsbury set, the General Strike, the Spanish Civil War, 1930s Americans in Paris, wartime espionage, New York avant garde art, even the Baader-Meinhof gang--all with a stellar supporting cast. The most sustained and best moment comes mid-book, as Mountstuart gets caught up in one of Britain's murkier wartime secrets, in the company of the here truly despicable Duke and Duchess of Windsor. Elsewhere author William Boyd occasionally misplaces his tongue too obviously in his cheek--the Wall Street Crash is trailed with truly crashing inelegance--but overall Any Human Heart is a witty, inventive and ultimately moving novel. Boyd succeeds in conjuring not only a compelling 20th century but also, in the hapless Logan Mountstuart, an anti-hero who achieves something approaching passive greatness. [Alan Stewart writing on Amazon]

About the Author

Wikipedia page.
Author's website.

 

Previous Months' Book Choices

November 2011
October 2011
September 2011
August 2011
July 2011
June 2011
May 2011
April 2011
March 2011
February 2011
January 2011
November 2010
October 2010
September 2010
August 2010
July 2010
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January 2010
November 2009
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