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

Will Poulter will play the shape-shifting monsterfilm
Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
Paul Hollywood

'Whether he left is almost immaterial'TV
Arts and Entertainment

game of thrones reviewWarning: spoilers

Arts and Entertainment
The original Star Wars trio of Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher and Mark Hamill

George Osborne confirms Star Wars 8 will film at Pinewood Studios in time for 4 May


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

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

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

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

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

    Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

    Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

    Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
    Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

    Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

    Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
    China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

    China's influence on fashion

    At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
    Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

    The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

    Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
    Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

    Rainbow shades

    It's all bright on the night
    'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

    Bread from heaven

    Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
    Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

    How 'the Axe' helped Labour

    UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
    Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

    The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

    A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
    Welcome to the world of Megagames

    Welcome to the world of Megagames

    300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
    'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

    Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

    Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
    Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

    Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

    The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
    Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

    Vince Cable exclusive interview

    Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
    Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

    Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

    Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
    Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

    It's time for my close-up

    Meet the man who films great whites for a living
    Increasing numbers of homeless people in America keep their mobile phones on the streets

    Homeless people keep mobile phones

    A homeless person with a smartphone is a common sight in the US. And that's creating a network where the 'hobo' community can share information - and fight stigma - like never before