Lurid and Cute by Adam Thirwell

Hardcover, 368 pages
Publisher: Jonathan Cape (January 2015)
Language: English 
Selected by Tank

Adam Thirlwell is contemporary English literature’s Wunderkind. In this, his third novel, the feckless narrator awakes in bed with a woman who is not his wife and who has overdosed on ketamine. In an unnamed city, something approaching a tropical version of London, he attempts to make sense of his surroundings. Thirlwell plays with the form of the confessional novel, and with tone – writing both luridly and cutely – to create what he has called “a gruesome and difficult toy.”



And so it happens that someone falls from a window or into the sea and into another world. They just fall and are suddenly among the butterflyfish and blue-striped snappers. That isn’t so strange, or what I mean is that certainly it’s no less strange than other events that you might think are normal. As one guru has it, if you say A man is sitting, there is a ship overhead, that’s at least as real and maybe more so than the sentence A man is sitting and reading a book. But also I think this could be described the other way round: you are sitting there, at your kitchen table with a bowl of nectarines and prickly pears, or wherever you want to sit, and then the sea falls in. That’s possibly how it feels more often, whether what you are doing is bargaining with your dealer to let you have a rock of crack at a temporary discount, or trying to locate your elbow and wrist in among the auto wreckage. The outside just falls in on you.


But did I know this or not know it? I mean, let’s just consider the situation of your hero. Here he is: unemployed, with various women who love him, plus a friend who is let’s say a little crazy. Now what is this hero to do? Does he try to be the good prince like he always is, the baby son? Or does he somehow move from state to state, a clown donning his various costumes, until there he is alone against the horizon begging for his life while someone points a gun at him? And OK, it does seem like option number 2 is the one he’s taken, but at what point did the true darkness become obvious? From this perspective of the future, I do find it difficult to say. Did I know that I was in the tropical sea or did I only know this later? Because definitely the outside can enter your life at any given moment, whether you are lost in the jungle among carnivorous plants, or watching from your presidential palace while the secret services drop bombs on you. Or there you are, in the snowy wastes, having got down from your carriage, waiting for the horses and kibitkas to be changed1, so you stand there, and around you there’s this whirling snow and beyond it the flat dark. And you know it. It is over, civilisation. It is totally done with and over. Yes, in all these places – whether in the jungle or your palace or the matte snow – you can feel exiled from world history. And me I was unemployed and deceitful and in love with many women, as well as a minor criminal and a warlord: and when you do that, you also tend to find that you are suddenly outside all the usual references you previously relied on. You end up with this discovery of pain and its other elements, suddenly buoyant and alone in the soundproofed metaphysical spaceship.


[1] Kibitkas are Russian carriages.

  • Lurid and Cute