Can you picture it... the ageing heavyweight boxers plodding around the ring, we've seen it all before, we know all the moves to the point where they now feel a bit contrived, know exactly when that upper cut's going to come. The footwork's leaden, slower than it used to be and it's not quite so interesting to watch, perhaps they're even trying a bit too hard, they've wowed us before and we love them, who knows perhaps they will wow us again one day, but we're ready for something a bit different, because this is all getting a bit monotonous and predictable to watch. The commentators do their best to dissect it all and liven things up because that's what we expect after all.
Then into the ring leaps a sprightly young bantam-weight.
Shock...horror, noooo, this is the heavyweights, he's not allowed in here, he's going to get mashed to a pulp.But look, he's nimble on his feet, he's not bothered by the rules, he's agile, dancing around, doing things a bit differently, smart but not smug, mixing it up because things are there to be mixed up surely, the jabs are coming from the most unexpected directions and the audience are on their feet and loving it. It's new and original and refreshing and the lad's packing punches way above his weight.
Well with apologies to the esteemed ringside commentator, the late Harry Carpenter, I'm sorry about all that, but it was an analogy just begging to be made in the aftermath of my recent read of Ned Beauman's debut in the literary ring, Boxer Beetle.
Likewise, if you are of a delicate and tender disposition and find it hard to suspend those sensibilities when you read (and that's perfectly fine) and think you may be upset by some strong language and some equally strong behaviour, then it may not be the book for you.
I'm in a slightly different reading place after this year's Bookerthon, immune to it all so please just bring me on something contemporary that doesn't kiss the canvas after 150 pages, and I have to say Boxer Beetle would have held its corner in that company this year. I have lost about 600 pages of precious reading time to the Booker cause in recent weeks and have nothing to show for it here beyond irritation, because I won't write about books I can't finish.
Boxer Beetle as the publicity blurb suggests is bold, it is original and it was impossible to put down other than perhaps to go and get some oxygen and let my brain figure out some of Ned's footwork, because this is a book teeming with originality coupled with fast and intelligent thought as well as a wicked sense of humour. It's rough and excitable in places, but for the odd simile that didn't quite work for me there were many more of such startling originality that all I could think was 'blimey that's clever.'
A combination of dodgy characters, Kevin "Fishy" Broom, the Nazi memorabilia collector who suffers from the rare genetic condition trimethylaminuria (the clue is in his name) and is set to work uncovering the mystery that has laid dormant for decades and will unravel right back to the East End of London in the 1930s.
And it is the shenanigans of eugenicist Erskine and his first human subject Sean " Sinner" Roach, a nine-toed squat homosexual Jewish boxer that will be uncovered. Much of Erskine's early work carried out on beetles and the particular pride of the fleet, Anopthalamus hitleri with its distinctive and perfect clockwise tetraskelion markings, a swastika to you and me.
There's perhaps an assumption that I don't like swear words in fiction, or I only read 'nice' books. The truth is I can read it all as long as it's well-written and nothing feels gratuitous; well-written such a highly subjective notion and might mean something different for everyone.
Now for example, Ned has mastered the art of the use of the swear word very early in his writing career and for this we must be thankful. For maximum effect on the dovegreyreader brain it's about using it briefly and occasionally to let me know that it's part of the vernacular and the context for that character, and after that sparingly will do just fine, enough to remind me every so often, there's really no need to use it fifty times per page peppering every sentence.
I've got the message.
Ned's got the message too.
Plus let's be honest, chez dovegreyreader not immune to the use of the expletive.
Gamekeeper's are not famed for their gentility when their baby pheasants roost on the ground outside the pen instead of up a tree, all involving the wiring up of a radio playing Classic FM all night in the middle of the woods to scare away the badgers and the foxes (with apologies to Classic FM, it works) and me waking up at 4am worrying about a load of pheasants.
And come to think of it nor did Bookhound say 'Oh dear' the day the pick axe handle broke and nearly took his eye out.
So we can cope with it, but sometimes I think it's the writers who can't.
I'll admit to a bit of naivety here as well, I don't move in these circles so I've ...er..learned a thing or two and emerged the other end feeling ever-so-slightly tousled and beetle-averse and grateful for my decision not to read the final fifty pages last thing at night. There are also now some very bizarre words typed into my Google history as a result...coprophagia a new one on me and I'm not going to tell you either, let Google suddenly think it's the latest craze as you all go and look it up, but perhaps not if you are eating your breakfast.
But for all the Boxer Beetle fun and humour, and Ned has a wicked and playful sense of that, and the moments of pure farce, there is a real depth and maturity here, moments when I had to stop and read again
'Normally you can't get a proper look at your own conscience because it only ever comes out to gash you with its beak and you just want to do whatever you can to push it away; but put your conscience in the cage of this paradox, where it can slither and bark but it can't hurt you, and you can study it for as long as you wish.'
So, the suggestion of a book 'jam packed with Fascism, Darwinism, repressed (or unrepressed) homosexuality and beetles' would not normally tempt me into a read and may well not tempt many of you, but if you fancy an exhilarating challenge here's your book. I'm very glad I jumped into the fray and flexed my reading muscles with this one, and I shall be ringside for all Ned's bouts in the future.
He's still pulling his punches, there's a lot more to come I'm sure.
OK Harry....yes, yes, you did it much better than me ...I'll stop now.