I was interested to read Politics from when I heard that Adam Thirlwell was a fan of Milan Kundera and his Art of the Novel. I had also heard him accused of trying to emulate Kundera's style and failing, and I had heard that Politics was not a particularly good book.
It is all too easy, however, to make comparisons with Kundera. Like him, Thirlwell divides his chapters into short, numbered sections, and he also adopts a definite authorial voice. However, it should be clear that he has not followed The Art of the Novel word for word, as his style is definitely his own.
Perhaps the authorial voice is one place where he is accused of failing to imitate Kundera. I disagree with such accusations: Thirlwell's voice is less subtle than Kundera's, and worse off for it, but he doesn't appear to be trying to sound like anyone else. This voice however is at times annoying and patronising. "I think you are going to like Moshe." he says, introducing a character on the first page. "His girlfriend's name was Nana. I think you will like her too."
It would be wrong to forbid an author from liking his own characters, no matter what they do in the book, but in trying to force his opinion on his readers, Thirlwell somewhat defeats the object of creative writing. It is interesting to have authorial insight at times, such as when he directly explains why he has made a character do a certain thing, but it does make it difficult to form a personal interpretation, and this could come across as very off-putting.
Thirlwell's use of characters is also similar to Kundera's, with both authors taking a theme, using it as the title of a novel, and describing how it affects the characters. However, Thirlwell's principals are more closely linked than most of Kundera's, through the ménage à trois which is the subject of Politics.
Somewhat confusingly, the appalling blurb claims that "Politics is not about politics." prompting me to wonder why, in that case, Thirlwell decided it was a fitting title for his book. To my mind, the novel is about social and sexual politics, and as such may have benefited from having a wider array of characters to act out the various scenarios.
However, it works well as it is, and it is an exploration of the possibly unasked question "How do you end a ménage à trois?" The anecdotal style may not appeal to everyone, but I enjoyed it, and despite the off-putting beginning I did come to like the characters, whose humanity was visible through their often thoughtless façades.
Politics is not an average novel, and as such may seem disconcerting, and is probably not to everyone's taste, but it is worth reading, and for all its uncomfortable foibles, I found it strangely compelling. Adam Thirlwell is not a low-fat version of Milan Kundera, but he never purports to be, and I admired his book for his own style. Politics is a very good first novel, and Thirlwell shows the potential to one day write one which, while being wholly distinct from, may be as great as The Unbearable Lightness of Being.