Artless humour

<strong>The Late Hector Kipling</strong>

David Thewlis <em>Picador, 200pp, £16.99</em>

The actor David Thewlis’s first attempt at novel-writing is a curious affair. A subplot-packed satire on the art world, it rockets along at an impressive pace, before losing its way rather spectacularly.

Hector Kipling is an artist, and a reasonably successful one, though not as successful as his friend Lenny, who has just been nominated for the Turner prize. He has a loving Greek girlfriend called Eleni and a warm, if mutually bemused, relationship with his mum and dad. Then his world is upended by a sudden succession of bizarre and tragic occurrences. One of his paintings is ruined in a freak motorcycle incident, a close friend is diagnosed with cancer, Eleni has to return to Greece after her mother is involved in a serious accident and Hector’s own mother has made a very unwise decision regarding a sofa.

Thewlis has a driving, spiky prose style and a way with blackly comic scenarios, but, more often than not, his writing feels overly self-conscious and stylistically forced. And despite the regular references to Hirst, Emin and their ilk, the satirical elements of the novel lack bite. When he lets the pace slow, he can be insightful about the minutiae of relationships, skewering the remarkable male capacity for self-sabotage, but there’s simply too much going on here.

This article first appeared in the 24 September 2007 issue of the New Statesman, Trouble ahead: the crises facing Gordon Brown