Magazine article The Spectator

Double, Double, Toil and Trouble

Magazine article The Spectator

Double, Double, Toil and Trouble

Article excerpt

LUDMILA 'SBROKEN ENGLISH by D. B. C. Pierre Faber, £12.99, pp. 318, ISBN 0571215181 . £10.39 (plus £2.45 p&p) 0870 429 6655

The good news about this novel is that it is unlike anything you have read before; the bad news is that that is probably for a good reason.

D. B. C. Pierre has followed up the Bookerwinning Vernon God Little (2003) with a picaresque tale of separated Siamese twins in a futuristic Britain, who come into contact with an internet bride from an imaginary exSoviet province. In doing so, he has committed the cardinal error of confusing oddness with originality, and we come to see that it is the manifest desperation to be credited with the latter that has pushed him regrettably towards the former.

The two plot strands are kept distinct for much of the book before coming together for its denouement, like a structural reversal of the Siamese separation process. Blair and Bunny Heath are the conjoined twins, separated late in life, now powerlessly bickering like bland versions of Beckett characters, waiting for God knows what. Blair's eagerness 'to get his end wet' leads the pair - for reasons too bemusing to set down - to an unscrupulous American businessman, who furnishes them with a priapic cocktail (emphasis very much on the first syllable) and packs them off to the Caucasus to find a bride. Meanwhile, in the town of Ublilsk, Ludmila leaves her poverty-stricken family to seek her eventual fortune on the internet.

Her family lingers on, struggling to cope with the death of its patriarch (murdered while trying to anally rape Ludmila), and facing the pernicious inquiries of a government inspector. The result is more gaga than Gogol (we are given a full range of cod-Russian exclamations: 'Smack your cuckoo!'; 'Don't toss gas!'; 'You lay your mother's bosom under fate's pestle' and so on) and the novel messily and violently subsides in a Slavic orgy of nonsense involving all of its central characters.

As will be clear, Pierre's approach to comic writing is unembarassedly broad, like a fat person in a skimpy bathing costume. The novel is framed by two anal rapes (one incestuous) and by page 9 we are already acquainted with the 'slickness' of Ludmila's 'vulva'. That is not its central problem, however. The problem is that Pierre's compositional method rests essentially upon an indefatigable determination to pursue quirkiness at all costs; he takes a tick-tack, as it were. …

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