Many adjectives come to mind when describing Beauman’s debut novel, but “strange” surely applies. Readers may feel compelled to shower after taking in this satiric tale (both funny and repellent) of fascism, eugenics, boxing, entomology, sex and murder.
Kevin Broom suffers from trimethylaminuria, a rare genetic condition that makes him smell like rotten fish, so he mostly spends his days in his London flat collecting Nazi memorabilia online. But he stumbles on a crime scene that takes the story back to the 1930s with Hitler in ascendance and some British holding him in awe. Broom learns about a five-foot-tall, nine-toed, hard-drinking Jewish homosexual boxer, appropriately named “Sinner” Roach, whose death in the 1930s is even uglier than his life. A eugenicist who wants to study him has previously focused on insects to learn whether he can breed undesirable traits out of them. (Think Aryan beetles.) The story wonderfully mocks eugenics and fascism, while the writing bursts with imaginative metaphors. For example: “Silkstone was a cheerful burly man whose laughter could have torn the stitches out of a straitjacket.” Or: “Twelve-year-old Millicent had so many freckles that Erskine wondered if she had stolen some from other children.” Unfortunately, the novel has no oases of sanity or likability, no character to care about or wish well. Millicent likes to burst into a room and breathlessly accuse people of perverse sex acts, but no one pays attention to her since she doesn’t even understand her own words. Meanwhile, who cares whether Broom solves the mystery or whether Erskine unearths the secrets of racial purity or whether Sinner will become the flyweight boxing champion. Who cares who is buggering whom, and in what graphic detail?The only truly interesting question is how Sinner dies.
If Franz Kafka had a sense of humor, perhaps he would have written a book like this one: quirky, comical, brilliant and, somehow, ultimately disagreeable.