Stylistic bravura can’t sustain interest in this overextended narrative with an underdeveloped plot.
Consider this the sophomore slump for the Pierre, whose debut novel, Vernon God Little (2003), won Britain’s Man Booker Prize despite polarized critical response. Here, Pierre continues to display a subversive delight in the possibilities of language (from titillation to disgust), but the corrosive vitality of its dialogue is about all this story has going for it. There are two plots, with thousands of miles between them, which the reader hopes will attain greater significance once they inevitably converge. Against a backdrop of terrorism in London, one story concerns the first successful surgical separation of conjoined twins, 33-year-old brothers named Bunny and Blair (not the most subtle of political references). Bunny is the brains of the two (and never thinks about sex), while Blair is the life force (who thinks of nothing but sex). If only one can survive, there’s some question as to which is the host and which is the parasite. The second plot features the titular Ludmila, trying to escape with her boyfriend from the war-torn Caucasus. Her major assets are her breasts (though this isn’t the word Pierre’s characters use) and her rudimentary command of English. After her incestuous grandfather dies while attempting to rape her, leaving her family in dire financial straits, she reluctantly becomes involved in a Russian mail-order-bride racket, thus sparking a visit to Russia by Blair (and Bunny). Perhaps the “Broken English” of the title refers to the twins as well as to Ludmila’s language skills. Perhaps not. Nothing else in this stick-figured, incongruously plotted, gratuitously indulgent novel seems to mean much, so why should that? If this is meant to be a send-up of globalization (or anything else), it misses the mark.
Some of the material might have generated laughs as a five-minute Saturday Night Life “wild and crazy guys” sketch, but it quickly wears thin as a novel.