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Boxer, Beetle by Ned Beauman
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Boxer, Beetle (edition 2011)

by Ned Beauman

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2153154,204 (3.53)19
Member:bug_girl
Title:Boxer, Beetle
Authors:Ned Beauman
Info:Sceptre (2011), Paperback, 272 pages
Collections:Your library
Rating:**1/2
Tags:nazis, eugenics, WTF, grim, evil entomologist, insects, fascism, racism, antisemitism

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Boxer, Beetle: A Novel by Ned Beauman (Author)

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Showing 1-5 of 30 (next | show all)
A massive exploration into eugenics, Boxer, Beetle is ambitious. The two main characters are self-loathing bastards, though their self-destruction manifests itself in different ways. It's a man's world, so the only woman who comes close to being a main character is somehow more well-adjusted (perhaps because she is straight and the men are not straight.) The narrator doesn't seem to be a main character to me, because the book is strangely more about the past than the present. And the story in both the past and the present takes many twists and turns.

What Beauman does well is the development of the neurotic male characters (Erskine and Broom) in the book. Their lives, their personal and social constraints, their worries, and their ambitions make them whole. What Beauman does too much of, for me, is the political blabber about the anti-Semitic, eugenics-centered arguments between politicians and intellectuals that go on and on and on for pages, where, yes, one would need to look up many events that happen or are referred to make sense of most of it. That's all fine; who doesn't like to work a little to learn some good history? (Uhm, some people don't, so this book is not recommended for those...) But somehow it was too much, too long, and at some point I found myself skimming through the anti-Semitic bullshit to get to the action or the personal developments. All of it reminded me of Rushdie's books where references to current affairs and historical events are a staple of every paragraph, but Beauman's prose does not flow as well or is not as captivating. There is also the added massive uncomfortable feeling of reading horrendously racist things being said that if you grew up in the West and are not a skinhead, you might find yourself cringing a lot. Of course, most of it is also hilarious. But not at all. But yes. But no. And it goes...

As for the beetles... As someone who designs biological experiments to test hypotheses on a daily basis, I am not sure what the question is that is being asked by the experiments with the beetles in the book. That selective breeding can improve select traits? But that's not what Erskine's genius (eugenics) idea, that's only what agriculture and farming has been doing for centuries. Can we breed better stuff by combining those that have select good traits? Sure, but nowhere in the book do we learn that Erskine has done such experiments. What seems to happen int he book is that there are some beetles and by feeding them different stuff and/or over time, Erskine allows them to become super beetles... Uhm, OK... (Perhaps all this is to ridicule the "science" of eugenics?)

In the end, I am glad I read this book and learned some stuff about fascism in Europe (Blackshirts, Battle of Cable Street, etc.) I am not sure if I would recommend to to anyone, other than those who really enjoy intellectual, historical, and rather uncomfortable subject matters.

( )
  bluepigeon | Dec 15, 2013 |
It's too short to give the material proper treatment. The framing device of Kevin in modern day is almost unimportant. ( )
  ptdilloway | Nov 21, 2013 |
What on earth to say about this book? Essentially, it's about the wrong-headedness of trying to impose order on a beautifully chaotic world. As you might guess from a book on this theme, it's rather chaotic itself, although perhaps not beautifully so, as it delights in being shocking.

So, we have a cast of assorted doctrinaire crazies; designers of languages which will be more logical than the ones we have, architects who are led by their theories to build buildings that human beings can't live in, Nazis. Yes. You might think that there are other things to say about the Holocaust than that it was impractical. But then, I said this book delighted in being shocking.

It also has a cast of really quite unpleasant characters - although this didn't diminish my enjoyment, either of the chaos or of the sardonically funny writing. "We had been driving west on the M3, past great drizzly industrial estates where men in overalls tended economies of scale like oxpeckers on a rhino".

What this book reminded me of most was a slightly toned-down Will Self. I like Self in small doses, so that suited me pretty well. But don't expect it to make too much sense. ( )
1 vote wandering_star | Nov 6, 2013 |
This is a review of a free book I received via the Goodreads First Reads program. It took forever for the book to be delivered to me, longer than usual for me to finish, and even longer for me to get around to a review attempt. Oops!

First off, this is not a book for the easily offended. Sure boxers and beetles sound innocuous enough, but then there's all the antisemitism, sex and violence in between. The characters are pretty despicable people too. And yet...I liked it. There's something about Ned Beauman's style that makes me want to give him another go. I'm just hoping that if I do cross paths with this author again, it will be with a book that has characters I can actually root for.
( )
  diovival | Oct 14, 2013 |
I tried SO hard to like this book, but I just could not get into it.
Was that because one of the main characters was an upper-class A-hole entomologist with racist leanings? Or was it the back and forth between different timelines, and a group of equally unappealing characters? I don't know, but I had to force myself to read it.

Parts of this book are quite funny, and literally laugh out loud. Mostly, though, I found it just too grim and depressing. Nazis and the freaks that collect their leavings are not interesting to me; nor are small feisty Jewish boxers. Even with beetles. ( )
  bug_girl | Dec 29, 2012 |
Showing 1-5 of 30 (next | show all)
Monstrous misfits with ugly motives are beautifully rendered in a novel where Beauman’s scrupulous research is deftly threaded through serious themes in a laugh-out-loud-on-the-train history lesson.
 
It's clear from this compelling debut that Beauman can perform the complicated paradoxical trick required of the best 21st-century realist novelists: to take an old and predictable structure and allow it to produce new and unpredictable connections.
 
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In idle moments I sometimes like to close my eyes and imagine Joseph Goebbels’ forty-third birthday party.
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Book description
Kevin "Fishy" Broom has his nickname for a reason — a rare genetic condition that makes his sweat and other bodily excretions smell like rotting fish. Consequently, he rarely ventures out of the apartment where he deals online in Nazi memorabilia. But when he stumbles into a crime scene, he finds himself drawn into an investigation of a pair of small-time players in pre-WWII history. First, there's Philip Erskine, a fascist gentleman entomologist who dreams of breeding an indomitable beetle as a tribute to Hitler's glory, all the while aspiring to arguably more sinister projects in human eugenics. And then there's Sinner Roach, a nine-toed, runtish, brutish, homosexual Jewish boxer — a somewhat hideous specimen, but perfect, in his way, who becomes on object of obsession for Erskine, professionally and most definitely otherwise. What became of the boxer? What became of the beetle? And what will become of anyone who tries to find out?

First-time novelist Ned Beauman spins out a dazzling narrative across decades and continents, weaving his own manic fiction through the back alleys of history. A remarkably assured, wildly enjoyable debut.
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London, 1934. Philip Erskine, gentleman entomologist and Nazi sympathizer, is distracted from his beetle breeding by an interest in eugenics, and by one beguiling human specimen: Seth "Sinner" Roach, a Jewish, homosexual, nine-toed runt of a boxer. Seventy-five years later, a crime scene clue sets a hapless collector of wartime memorabilia on the trail of scientist and subject, leading toward a danger that my not have died with the Third Reich, after all.… (more)

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