Waugh’s Vile Bodies is invaded by Hitchcock’s The Birds: a bizarre fantasy about the high-jinks of a group of Bright Young Things moving through a fashionable London demimonde.
“The thing about Murray,” we’re told, “is, he’s like, a sprite or a goblin . . . . He’s a social terrorist.” What’s so special about him? Well, he hasn’t a last name, for one thing, and nobody is quite sure what race he is, either. Plus, he eats nothing but chicken. He has lived in an ashram in India, worked as a strip-club bouncer in Bangkok, smuggled drugs across the border (don’t ask how), and peeled potatoes in restaurants across the globe. He ended up for a while in a third-rate university in London, where he met Tom Dare at Mass one Sunday. Tom’s girlfriend, Karen, works for the Mayor’s office, and she eventually goes to bed with Murray. So, too, does Emma, the wife of Murray’s friend Tariq Khan. But Murray is not just a philanderer. When Tariq’s computer-software firm starts to tank in the aftermath of the dot-com bust, Murray organizes a scheme to raise enough money to keep Emma and Tariq from losing their home. It’s not exactly legal, and it goes very badly out of control in the end, but it shows where his heart is. The bond between Murray and his friends becomes even stronger, in fact, when the city is struck with a strange and deadly phenomenon: Flocks of killer pigeons attacking people on the streets. First, Murray’s friend Freya has her ear bitten, then another friend has part of his nose pecked off. Soon the entire city is in a panic and the authorities are warning people to stay indoors. What’s going on? Would it surprise you to learn that, somehow, Murray is involved?
Amusing, and just credible enough to be read straight, but Neate’s (Twelve Bar Blues, 2002, etc.) third novel is too far-fetched to be swallowed whole.