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Customer Review

6 of 8 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars An Appealing or Appalling Hero?, 6 Jan. 2009
This review is from: The Late Hector Kipling (Paperback)
One prominent print review casts the protagonist of this debut novel from British actor Thewliss as an "appealing" hero. I had to reread that particular line several times, because to my mind, a more accurate description would be "appalling." And it's that difference between appealing and appalling that made this book an ultimately frustrating read for me. I'm not suggesting that a protagonist has to be nice, or likable, or "appealing" to be worth spending 300 pages with -- there are plenty of example of awful, nasty, completely compelling characters who can carry a book along. But the middle-aged painter named Hector Kipling, whose antics this story revolves around, becomes so annoyingly selfish and self-destructive that as his world collapses all around him in the final third of the book, one is hard-pressed to care.

Which isn't to say the book isn't worth trying. For one thing, it's pretty funny -- at least the first half or so. I wouldn't rate it as laugh-out-loud funny as many others seem to, but the wordplay is awfully sharp in that way that seems comes so effortlessly to British writers. At the same time, it's a sharp skewering of the modern art scene, with plenty of name dropping and inside jokes. So if you find the art of installations and video montages to be generally worth mockery, then this may be the book for you.

Another potentially interesting element is how Thewliss takes a standard comedy template (the flawed but likable 25-45 male who makes a few mistakes in the first act and then must spend the rest of the book/film redeeming himself, winning success and the girl by the end) and subverts it. What starts off as another journey down this well-trodden path starts to veer off the map, as Hector's missteps lead him down some very dark roads. Around two-thirds of the way through the book, it seems like the plot has been taken to a place it cannot logically recover from. And yet, we are so used to reading/seeing these kind of stories where the hero turns it all around in in a cunning or lucky reversal of fortunes, that the narrative tension is maintained.

Whether or not you enjoy this is predicated on whether or not you buy into Hector's rapid nervous breakdown and increasingly erratic and selfish behavior. Personally, it all felt way too contrived to me, but I was glad that Thewliss never shied away from the realistic fallout such a breakdown would cause. Worth a sample by those looking for very dark comedy and/or fiction about the artistic process set in the contemporary art world.
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Review Details

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Reviewer

A. Ross
(TOP 1000 REVIEWER)    (REAL NAME)   

Location: Washington, DC

Top Reviewer Ranking: 591