Review by J.T. Johnson
From the outside, artist Hector Kipling has everything you would think someone would want out of life. He has parents who love him, friends who care about him, a great girlfriend and a pretty decent amount of success as a painter. Yet, as we view these things from the perspective of Mr. Kipling himself, we quickly begin to realize that he is a very egotistical and unhappy man.
His best friend, Lenny, is more successful than him and Hector can’t get over his own competitiveness and thinks that he deserves more success. He also hates the fact that Lenny has had a tragic death in his family that has benefitted his art pieces. When Hector’s other friend, Kirk, gets a brain tumor, Hector sees this more as an opportunity to gain remorseful attention from others than to have genuine concern for his friend’s potential death.
Not being as successful as he wants to be and having loving parents and a good girlfriend that don’t enrich his art leads to a downward spiral for the middle-aged Hector. He tries to convince himself that he loves his friends and parents, but just saying it doesn’t make it so. As the novel progresses, author David Thewlis shows us Hector’s slow descent and you find yourself, at times, wanting to either hug or beat the shit out of Hector.
Granted, there are some things that are beyond Hector’s control, such as the unexpected arrival of a stalker that has a certain connection to his past and Hector’s success. Still, even with the uncontrollable moments, it is Hector’s actions that ultimately make them worse. By the time the book reaches its inevitable end, Hector is the fully exposed and emotionally bereft narcissist that he has always really been underneath a false sense of emotions.
The story is definitely a black comedy, so don’t think that the entire story is a tragedy. Humor finds its way into the story more times than not. Such examples include Hector and Kirk giving Lenny crap for stealing some of his ideas from other artists (even if he didn’t) or some of Hector’s own misadventures as he tries to deal with the ever escalating situations that arise in his life.
Thewlis also throws in plenty of satire towards the artists community as well. While there are genuinely talented artists in the world, most come off as pompous asses that are no more connected to the world than me or you. The novel points this out exquisitely through Hector’s perspective and you really see how the world of the artist is more a business of show these days than of the importance of the art itself.
Some might say that Hector’s life would have been different had he not been so isolated from real world problems such as death until he reached middle age, but I think that Hector’s outcome was inevitable. I think that despite dragging a little bit here and there, the novel is filled with genuine twists and turns as Thewlis reaches Hector’s wild yet absolutely appropriate ending. I sincerely couldn’t put this book down when I had time to read it and hated it when I had to as this is a classic that will be talked about for years to come.