Politics by Adam Thirlwell

Of Granta’s twenty ‘Best of Young British Novelists’ from 2003, Zadie Smith and Adam Thirlwell offer the greatest promise as writers testing the form and finding an evolving and distinct style.

Thirlwell’s debut novel Politics is a study of relationships. A sexually explicit opening chapter presages other reasonably hard-core set-pieces. (It’s not a book to read while sitting beside a stranger on a commuter train.) After the eye-opening first section, the narrator explains:

This book is not about sex. No. It is about goodness. This story is about being kind. In this book, my characters have sex, my characters do everything, for moral reasons.

This comical examination of the minute actions, thoughts and emotions of the three central protagonists is intertwined by the metafictional commentary of the unnamed narrator. I enjoyed the occasional historical digressions, notably into the life of Soviet poet Osip Mandelstam, the plays of Oscar Wilde, Bollywood films, Bulgakov in Stalinist Russia and Bauhaus architecture. I have a predilection for digressive stories. Less enjoyable is Thirlwell’s colloquial dialogue, e.g. “‘Yeah no igzacly’, said Nana. ‘You’re not men to. Because it’s meaningless.'”

There are more accomplished writers using postmodern techniques to play with form, Calvino comes immediately to mind but there is enough promise to continue reading Thirlwell’s work. Biblioklept is reading Thirlwell’s next book The Delighted States (published here as Miss. Herbert or at least so my copy is titled), which I am looking forward to reading some time soon.

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