Visual Editions, £15

Kapow!, By Adam Thirlwell

This playful novel of typographic tricks and polyphonic voices is conventional at heart

Rustam is an Uzbek taxi driver living in Cairo. One night he finds a guy in the street who he thinks is dead, but he's not. The guy is called Mouloud. Rustam takes Mouloud home to his wife, who is not named because she's not important to the story. Or, more to the point, her story is not important to the narrator of this unusual novel – if novel it is. She's just "Mouloud's wife". Rustam's wife, Nigora, meanwhile, is very important. Equally important is Mouloud's friend Ahmad, who wants to see Nigora naked.

All this comes to us via the unnamed narrator, darting around London from juice bar to lesbian hipster joint, who gets it, or some of it, from Mouloud's taxi driver brother, Faryaq. How much he gets from Faryaq and how much he makes up is not clear, but that doesn't really matter, either. The narrator wants to construct his own Arabic novel, "a zoom of pure joyfulness".

The stories of Nigora, Ahmad and Rustam are played out against the backdrop of the Arab Spring, specifically events in Tahrir Square. To reflect the nature of revolution and the multitude of stories, the book looks like a typesetter's revenge. Digressions, factual asides and parenthetical remarks slice across the page or appear upside down, even running across extra pages that unfold from the main body of the book.

While the initial impression is of a bold formal experiment with the polyphonic novel, once it becomes evident that for the most part the inserts work as unanchored footnotes, it also becomes clear that this is a surprisingly conventional novel – if novel it is. There's nothing wrong with it being conventional, but it is tricked out to look tricksy, while the trick is that it's not.

The publisher believes that books should be "as visually interesting as the stories they tell". It's certainly a beautifully produced book. It surely misses the point to complain that the appearance is distracting, but the narrow columns produce lots of bad breaks.

Thirlwell is funny on class structures in revolutionary hipness, and there's a good joke about smoking ("I was smoking so much whenever I saw him that I considered taking up smoking again for real"). I can't work out whether to scratch or shake my head over the number of joints the narrator visits in his metropolitan peregrinations: there's the lesbian hipster joint, a "Cantonese joint set up in an old pie and mash shop", and an Indian champissage joint on the Seven Sisters Road.

Ultimately, it's a clever book. The way revolution is immediately followed by counter-revolution is echoed neatly in a series of apparent contradictions: "Everywhere she went in this apartment Rustam was there and he was not there"; "And now he had said something which in retrospect perhaps revealed that what he was feeling was never what he was feeling". There's room in the book's 80-odd pages for theory and philosophy, as well as a throng of artists and intellectuals. In the space of a page there are references to Kundera, Robert Rauschenberg, John Cage, Jean-Marie Straub and Engels. Just when the whole crazy footnote thing starts to remind you of Nicholson Baker, up he pops.

Nicholas Royle's new novel, 'First Novel' (Jonathan Cape), will be published next year

Suggested Topics
Arts and Entertainment

Listen to his collaboration with Naughty Boy

music
Arts and Entertainment
Daniel Craig in a scene from ‘Spectre’, released in the UK on 23 October

film
Arts and Entertainment
Cassetteboy's latest video is called Emperor's New Clothes rap

film
Arts and Entertainment

Poldark review
Arts and Entertainment
Jess Glynne is UK number 1

music

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
TV
Arts and Entertainment
Katie Brayben is nominated for Best Actress in a Musical for her role as Carole King in Beautiful

film
Arts and Entertainment
Israeli-born actress Gal Gadot has been cast to play Wonder Woman
film
News
Top Gear presenter James May appears to be struggling with his new-found free time
people
Arts and Entertainment
Kendrick Lamar at the Made in America Festival in Los Angeles last summer
music
Arts and Entertainment
'Marley & Me' with Jennifer Aniston and Owen Wilson
film
Arts and Entertainment
Jon Hamm (right) and John Slattery in the final series of Mad Men
tv
Arts and Entertainment
theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Place Blanche, Paris, 1961, shot by Christer Strömholm
photographyHow the famous camera transformed photography for ever
Arts and Entertainment
The ‘Westmacott Athlete’
art
Arts and Entertainment
‘The Royals’ – a ‘twisted, soapy take on England’s first family’
tv Some of the characters appear to have clear real-life counterparts
News
Brooks is among a dozen show-business professionals ever to have achieved Egot status
people
Arts and Entertainment
A cut above: Sean Penn is outclassed by Mark Rylance in The Gunman
film review
Arts and Entertainment
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
James Franco and Zachary Quinto in I Am Michael

Film review Michael Glatze biopic isn't about a self-hating gay man gone straight

Arts and Entertainment
A scene from the movie 'Get Hard'
tvWill Ferrell’s new film Get Hard receives its first reviews
Arts and Entertainment
Left to right: David Cameron (Mark Dexter), Nick Clegg (Bertie Carvel) and Gordon Brown (Ian Grieve)
tvReview: Ian Grieve gets another chance to play Gordon Brown... this is the kinder version
Arts and Entertainment
Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman in the first look picture from next year's Sherlock special

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Because it wouldn’t be Glastonbury without people kicking off about the headline acts, a petition has already been launched to stop Kanye West performing on the Saturday night

music
Arts and Entertainment
Molly Risker, Helen Monks, Caden-Ellis Wall, Rebekah Staton, Erin Freeman, Philip Jackson and Alexa Davies in ‘Raised by Wolves’

TV review
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    General Election 2015: The masterminds behind the scenes

    The masterminds behind the election

    How do you get your party leader to embrace a message and then stick to it? By employing these people
    Machine Gun America: The amusement park where teenagers go to shoot a huge range of automatic weapons

    Machine Gun America

    The amusement park where teenagers go to shoot a huge range of automatic weapons
    The ethics of pet food: Why are we are so selective in how we show animals our love?

    The ethics of pet food

    Why are we are so selective in how we show animals our love?
    How Tansy Davies turned 9/11 into her opera 'Between Worlds'

    How a composer turned 9/11 into her opera 'Between Worlds'

    Tansy Davies makes her operatic debut with a work about the attack on the Twin Towers. Despite the topic, she says it is a life-affirming piece
    11 best bedside tables

    11 best bedside tables

    It could be the first thing you see in the morning, so make it work for you. We find night stands, tables and cabinets to wake up to
    Italy vs England player ratings: Did Andros Townsend's goal see him beat Harry Kane and Wayne Rooney to top marks?

    Italy vs England player ratings

    Did Townsend's goal see him beat Kane and Rooney to top marks?
    Danny Higginbotham: An underdog's tale of making the most of it

    An underdog's tale of making the most of it

    Danny Higginbotham on being let go by Manchester United, annoying Gordon Strachan, utilising his talents to the full at Stoke and plunging into the world of analysis
    Audley Harrison's abusers forget the debt he's due, but Errol Christie will always remember what he owes the police

    Steve Bunce: Inside Boxing

    Audley Harrison's abusers forget the debt he's due, but Errol Christie will always remember what he owes the police
    No postcode? No vote

    Floating voters

    How living on a houseboat meant I didn't officially 'exist'
    Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin

    By Reason of Insanity

    Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin
    Power dressing is back – but no shoulderpads!

    Power dressing is back

    But banish all thoughts of Eighties shoulderpads
    Spanish stone-age cave paintings 'under threat' after being re-opened to the public

    Spanish stone-age cave paintings in Altamira 'under threat'

    Caves were re-opened to the public
    'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'

    Vince Cable interview

    'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'
    Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

    Promises, promises

    But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
    The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

    The death of a Gaza fisherman

    He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat