Originally published in Boxer’s native Britain, this pretentious little debut novel—literally small, as if meant for a place near the cash register—recounts through letters a young Edinburgh University student’s unconsummated love affair with a young woman who may or may not love him back.
The letters are written by the narrator (like Boxer, named Charlie) to his suffering mother and friend Paul. Charlie has come from London to study in Edinburgh. From a wealthy family, he refers periodically to a public scandal involving his father’s affair to a famous woman, although there is not enough follow-up to make it a plot development. Charlie’s letters to his mother are far more self-revealing than a contemporary young man would likely write, while those to Paul gush with sensitive affection that seemingly unintended homoeroticism flavors the story even when Charlie falls in love with Katie. He writes of his increasing fascination and infatuation with her (she’s given Boxer’s wife’s name), as if building to a romantic tragedy, but what’s described sounds more like puppy love in the trappings of pseudointellectual spirituality, while Katie is given superlatives, sometimes contradictory, that don’t add up to a dynamic portrait. Devoted to her widowed mother, she is also enamored of speed—a possibly important piece of information that Charlie mentions only once—and has a mostly absent boyfriend. Charlie spins convoluted sentences full of abstraction but without a hint of humor or irony. He is also painfully repetitive, even reprinting several pages of a letter to his mother in another to Paul. Although references to Bob Dylan and jeans try to make for contemporaneity, the language and, more importantly, the narrator’s worldview lands somewhere between Victorian and Edwardian. At one point, there’s even mention of monocle-wearing undergraduates.
Insufferable, and impossible to take seriously.