Artless blunder

<strong>Softcore</strong>

Tirdad Zolghadr<em> Telegram Books, 208pp, £8.99</em>

ISBN 184659020

A young man with artistic ambitions who has travelled the world returns to his native Iran

to reopen the Promessa, a cocktail bar that closed with the onset

of the Islamic revolution. The

bar doubles as a gallery for art, fashion and culture. Gradually, however, the protagonist finds himself involved in an international network of conspiracy and politics.

In his debut novel, Tirdad Zolghadr, an Iranian active in the field of contemporary art (like his narrator), tries to take a satirical look at modern Iranian society, but his story lacks originality and verve. It is set in Tehran, which, like any other metropolis, is bursting with energy, lively characters and fantastic stories, yet the best Zolghadr can come up with are little more than dysfunctional caricatures.

Softcore shows no sign of balance or proportion. While it is sometimes cynical and witty, it is more often pompous and pretentious. For example, a hotel receptionist is described in the following manner: “a true Virilio this man is. Temporal dissemination of spatiality, virtual densities of space-time.”

Zolghadr has made such an effort with his story that it borders on a treatise rather than a novel, a trap that an instinctive storyteller seldom falls into.