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Bestselling Spanish author Navarro (Shoot, I'm Already Dead, 2013, etc.) details the life choices of an unpleasant character in this aptly titled novel.

Thomas Spencer reflects on his past because he knows he's dying. "Tonight I am overwhelmed by memories of my life, and they all leave the taste of bile in my mouth." "As I look death in the face, I'll go over what I have lived through. I know what I did, and what I should have done." As a child of privilege growing up in New York City, he torments his nanny and frames his teacher. He tries to kill his little brother by pushing him out the window, then to separate his parents by convincing his father his mother is having an affair (she isn't). Later, he becomes an adman and moves on to blackmail, affairs, domestic violence, political machinations. He describes himself as "scum," "a scorpion." Other characters call him "a miserable bastard...a son of a bitch," "a man with no principles." When his mother dies of cancer: "I searched within myself for some emotion, but I couldn't feel a thing." He imagines the way each pivotal scene would have gone if he'd acted differently, but: "I wasn't struck with remorse for a single moment." This goes on for more than 800 pages, and the writing often feels banal. Of sex with a "high-end" prostitute he later drives to suicide: "It was a voyage of discovery into sensations I did not know existed." Of the differences between New York and London: "New Yorkers are more communicative and less formal than the British." There are dark plot twists, but the central question remains the same. "I can't stop asking myself if this life would have been better, the one I didn't want to live because I preferred to be a son of a bitch....But I never wanted to be anything other than what I am."

Bullying narcissists make poor company, and the refusal to allow this one to learn anything is a risky authorial move.

Pub Date: Nov. 1st, 2016
ISBN: 978-1-101-97325-7
Page count: 864pp
Publisher: Vintage
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15th, 2016


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