A retired British diplomat uses his newly acquired free time to explore the mysteries of his own mind.
There’s an air of absurdity that buoys but can’t save this bizarre debut novel by Balding, longtime chief executive officer of the World Association of Newspapers and News Publishers. We meet our protagonist, Victor Andrews, as he prepares to undergo an angioplasty at the age of 50. Perhaps it’s the shadow of his own mortality at play, but subsequently, this very British creature of habit begins to ponder all manner of things—the psyche of mass murderers is a recurring motif, as are sex, atheism, and the nature of reality. It’s probably best that Victor is given to long soliloquies, as his only real companions are his lady friend, Helen, a psychoanalyst, and a newly acquired parrot, Yorick. Among Victor’s myriad theories is the idea that should humans achieve total objectivity, they might expand their consciousness to the point they mutate into a new species, hence the title. It is fitfully funny at times—for all his loquacious speeches, our man is an utter horndog who spends more time pondering his manhood than his humanity. “You penetrate me like a solemn god entering his temple” could easily qualify for the Bad Sex in Fiction Award. Victor also spends half the book trying to teach Yorick to say things like “God is dead,” to the point the whole enterprise feels like an overly cerebral but interminable Monty Python skit. Close followers of philosophy may find some value in all this cerebral navel-gazing as Victor prattles on, name-checking Pascal, Kafka, and Nietzsche, among others. Most readers may feel more like Helen does when she asks, “What’s actually the matter with you? It’s as though your head had cracked open and you were picking out pieces of your brain and examining them for sense.”
A tart but ultimately hollow portrait of a narcissist parading toward hubris.