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on 20 June 2017
I love the concept of this. We begin with a bang - literally - as the protagonist is the victim of a random shooting in a car park. We're told that the bullet has damaged his optic nerve and that he'll never see again, and we follow him to a hospital for tests and treatment. But pretty soon, he's sure he can see. And there his adventures begin.
I won't say any more for fear of spoiling the story, but I thought this was an inspired idea. We have the description of the world as imagined from the sounds and smells, as a man tries to grapple with the loss of his most dominant sense. Somewhere near the middle of the book there's a hiccup where we get a story within a story. This seems rather unbalanced as it takes us away from the main story for a long time, to a completely new set of characters. Although it eventually ties up, I felt the detour was too long. But still, a fascinating read, a bold concept and very beautifully written.
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VINE VOICEon 18 August 2002
Starts with an excellent premise which opens up a genie out of a bottle. We are drawn into a strange and original world...then the second half of the book changes perspective and loses alot of its magic. Almost as if the author wanted to quickly finish the novel and tacked on an inferior sequel. Infact, the very end reminds me of a secondary school story where you can't wait to end the story with disregard to the potential of what you've begun to unravel. Weak, undisciplined and such a waste. However, overall the book is so good that it still merits four stars.
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on 15 June 2005
For a fascinating gaze at (compulsive) character portrayal you will find 'The Insult' by Rupert Thomson superb. I began the book after I had finished writing an onerous business assignment when I was hungry for indulgent rather than obligatory reading. I finished it within a couple of days, unable to stop reading the last couple of hundred pages into the early hours of the final morning. It is a book written in three or four stages, with a quite different approach to sentence length, style and consciousness at each stage. It is particularly easy to zoom through the first stage (which I presume the author intended for the reader), because the sentences are very short and unfussy in both grammar and vocabulary (rather like the early work of Ian McEwan), and half way through this part I was almost tempted to abandon the book, thinking nothing much was coming. Thank Buddha I didn't. Thomson was simply putting down his first layer and drawing me, the unsuspecting first-time reader of any of his works, across it. Then he took me on quite a ride. This man can craft and tell a story - the latter part of the book contains some of the best, flowing prose and human insights I have ever read. As one commentator (on the inside cover) puts it: "When someone can write as well as Thomson, it makes you wonder why other people bother." Because the book changes so noticeably at certain points, you are tempted to react as if watching a badly edited movie, but it's worth hanging in there. I thought the middle stages of the book, where the blind man partly loses grip on reality, rather caused me to lose grip a bit too (hence the dropped star in my rating), but I do not present this as an injurious criticism of Insult. It's a brilliant book. I'm excited to have discovered Thomson and I'm now off to read more of his work.
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In a supermarket car park Martin Blom is shot in a random incident which the police cannot make headway with. It leaves him blind. Or does it? Gradually, over the course of his recovery period, Blom finds that he can see again, but only at night. He dismisses his neuro-surgeon, Bruno Visser's explanation that this is only an illusion and paranoia sets in. He later becomes convinced that Visser is experimenting on him, sending images, sometimes whole days of cable television, through the titanium nugget inserted into his head to replace damaged bone.

But this is only one of his convictions - the night vision produces a number of other startling visions calculated to shock and amuse. He becomes involved with a woman, Nina, who is aroused by the novelty of sex with a blind man. An enigmatic character, she leads a somewhat troubled existence and when she disappears from all her usual haunts he sets out to find her.

There is a surprising shift in the last third of the novel leading to narrative disorientation as we experience most of the remainder in a jump back in time to Nina's origins - something of a risk Thomson takes in a book with so many shifting surfaces, but to my mind it works triumphantly in the end.

The writing is gorgeous - sensual, beguiling, tremendously compelling and characters leap off the page and take up residence in ones thoughts. Unreliable narrative effects, which seem as disorientating as the plot, slot into place as the story takes shape. This is something quite different from the average thriller-type literary novel and I found myself caught up completely by the twists and turns. The ending is disappointing, but only because there's no more of this haunting and brilliant novel to read.
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on 24 April 2017
Clearly Rupert Thomson can write. His prose is often very good indeed and he can create, among many other things, dark and suffocating images with considerable power.

My problem was the story. There is more than a touch of Dennis Potter going on here with Martin, the main character, going off on his imaginative jaunts. But, for me, they didn't quite work. And I have real doubts as to the thesis found in these reviews that his night time sight was imaginary. He moved around negotiating his local physical space. You can't do that by just imagining it. The other characters that he meets also didn't quite stack up. They lacked that edge needed to make them 'real'.

This book would have been better had the author gone the whole hog and turned it into a full blown psychedelic novel. Treat it in the way we may imagine Will Self would.

Having said all this, I am keen to try another one of Thomson's books. I did like his writing style.

With a ten star option, this would have got 7!
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on 25 September 2001
if you've read any of his other books you'll know that his style of writting is superb, and as ever he fits a sexual twist into the narrative. an original piece well worth reading.
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on 22 September 2005
I use the following analogy for this book. Rupert Thomson had a fantastic dream - the story of a blind man that can see (or can he?) and his experiences adapting to his new life. However he awoke before the natural conclusion of his dream, but undeterred, he wrote down what he dreamt but was left with an unfinished novel.
The next night, he fell asleep and this time had a nightmare, where incest, child and wife abuse and ultimately murder featured. Again he woke up before the real ending but wrote it down and had the brain wave to tie it in with his first dream.
Unfortunately, it just didn't work. The linkages are tenuous at best; the ending is slapdash and unsatisfying and has put me off any of his other books for good.
If you value your sanity, avoid this book - the second half certainly isn't the type of story that you want to read on your 7am commute to work. It is a pity because the first half is a truly amazing read.
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on 18 May 2013
I found this an unusual but fascinating book. The story starts with Martin who has been blinded by a random gun attack and goes in some detail through his emotional and psychological journey. He meets and falls for Nina, who then suddenly disappears. Martin sets off to find more about Nina whilst developing severe paranoia. He meets Ninas mother and then grandmother.
The story then changes to Ninas grandmother as the main character and slowly we begin to see another group of lives on a collision course with Martin and Nina.
When the two stories come together it was so well developed that it reminded me of Arthur Haleys Roots.
A very emotionally engaging book that makes us question our own realities - highly recommended.
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on 6 August 2009
This should be a great book, a great idea to build on and some very interesting ideas, wrapped up in a strong writing style with some distinctive characters. As noted with some of the other reviews, this starts like a train. The hospital scenes and the early scenes after this are great, but the author flogs this to death by about half way. Then he goes off on a complete tangent but by this point you don't care about what's going on anyway. That's the problem. He didn't need any more ideas, the whole blindness thing works very well, but the story just lacks any pace or urgency or sense of development.

It's a very frustrating book to be honest, so I'd say steer well clear. Nothing worse than something that draws up you in and then disappoints so badly. Divided Kingdom is much better by the way.
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VINE VOICEon 11 July 2004
I don't think that I have read a more bizarre and weird novel since I first read Ian Banks' "The Wasp Factory" many years ago."The Insult" is very reminiscent of that book, with its disturbed characters , dysfunctional families and isolated setting. Try combining "The Wasp Factory" with "Steppenwolf" and you will get a flavour of what "The Insult" is about.
I must say that I did not enjoy the novel as much as "Soft" or "Book of Revelation", which were much more concise , focused and stylish. In comparison "The Insult" is somewhat prosaic, incongruous and irritating. At times I felt like putting it down and forgetting about it.However I persevered and I found the second half of the story (the novel is effectively two tenuously linked stories in one) more entertaining than the first.
Thomson creates a fantastic world in "The Insult" which is set in a surreal Germanic/Slavic location. We encounter a blind person (who can see) who is convinced he is the victim of a mind control experiment and a seemingly respectable female hotelier with as sleazy a life history as you can imagine. These two characters lives converge dramatically as the novel reaches its conclusion.
I don't really know what Rupert Thomson was trying to convey in this book. However , like "Soft" and "Book of Revelation", the theme of fatalism is strong with certain traumatic events changing the lives of his characters irrevocably for the worse .Thomson explores the consequences of these life changing incidents superbly and that is where "The Insult" is at its most impressive. But it is a ponderous read ; the main character , Blom, is not overly sympathetic and the plot is inconsequential at times. However it is an odd book ,probably not like anything you have ever read before and "The Insult" does just enough to make you keep on reading until all its secrets are revealed.
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