The first novel from actor Thewlis (best actor winner at Cannes for Mike Leigh’s Naked) is a rollicking, no-corpses-barred black comedy set in the London art world.
Well-regarded painter Hector Kipling has reached a plateau. His enormous portraits command top prices, but lately his longtime pal and rival, Lenny Snook, a conceptual artist, has eclipsed him in fame. Hector’s romance with Eleni is calm and happy, but doesn’t calm and happy mean stultifying, perilously close to bourgeois? What he needs, he muses, is a little death. Thewlis delivers a few little deaths (see Hector’s disastrous fling with an American poet who favors sex games involving lighters and knives), but his main preoccupation is the bigger kind, and death doesn’t come half-stepping: Suddenly Hector’s artist friend Kirk is terminal, likewise Eleni’s mother in Greece, likewise Hector’s father, and before long Hector’s life, personal and professional, goes into a death spiral. Alas, his sufferings are as stylized as opera, or slapstick (in one scene Hector, naked, dangles from a drainpipe outside the window of the deranged madman/dandy/sex-abuse victim who’s out to kill him). But the art-world milieu is deftly handled, and there’s a splendidly mean and morbid wit at play in this antic account of a man whose life seems a “drunken collaboration between Feydeau and Dante.”
Though it ultimately doesn’t satisfy as either tragedy or farce, this is far more than an actor’s vanity project: Thewlis has talent.