Hutchinson, £12.99 Order at a discount from the Independent Online Shop
Lamb, By Bonnie Nadzam
This daring, disturbing first novel imagines the friendship of a child and an older man
Saturday 10 November 2012
Of late, intimate encounters between mature men and under-age girls have been much in the news. This debut novel by a young US author flirts with the possibility that such relationships might not always have dire consequences. It's a contentious line to take, but consider Tommie and David Lamb. Tommie is 11 years old, Lamb 54.
Tommie is dared by her friends to cadge a cigarette from Lamb as he loiters outside her Chicago apartment block. Lamb has just been to his father's funeral, his marriage has collapsed and he's in trouble over an affair with a colleague. Nevertheless, he decides to mentor Tommie, to rescue her from what he judges to be her monochrome life. He will treat her to a trip out West that she will always remember.
Tommie's appearance is described in a fashion that conveys her childish appeal, but also insinuates the possibility of a more disturbing attraction: "The shorts hung around her pelvic bones and her stomach stuck out like a dirty spotted white sheet. It was grotesque. It was lovely." Lamb buys Tommie expensive gifts and has a rhetorical way of expressing himself which also has - in the way of rhetoric - much potential for dissimulation.
During the road trip, Bonnie Nadzam's ability to conjure natural settings, especially flora, becomes prominent ("Soft gaping mouths of beardtongue, and mountain lover, and buckbush and drowsy purple heads of virgin's bower"). However, Nadzam's abilities go well beyond evocative description; she involves the reader in her narrative to a degree which becomes unsettling. If Lamb is manipulating Tommie in ways that go against her best interests, Nadzam manipulates us into vicarious collaboration with Lamb. While his actions are patently reprehensible, it becomes clear to Tommie - and us - that Lamb's loneliness and distress are so immense that it is hard to think of him as evil.
Nadzam is harking back to the canonical work of this incendiary genre, Vladimir Nabokov's Lolita. If David Lamb and Nabokov's anti-hero Humbert Humbert are both over-blessed with verbal felicity, there are diverting points of difference. Humbert is a wretch, a sophisticated satyr aware of the black comedy of his dark compulsion, while Lamb is upright and innocent, laid low by his debilitating neediness. It would be unreasonable to expect Nadzam to match Nabokov's shimmering brilliance, but even so this is fiction of striking distinction.
Ray Davies' Sunny Afternoon scoops the most awardsTheatre
Grace DentChannel 4 show proves there's no app for happiness
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 Rarest Beanie Baby of them all could be sold for £62,500 on eBay
- 2 Ben Affleck asked TV chiefs to hide slave-owning ancestry, new hacked Sony emails published by Wikileaks claim
- 3 Driving while dehydrated can be just as dangerous as drink driving, study suggests
- 4 Farmer told to tear down mock-Tudor castle after hiding construction behind hay bales
- 5 One Direction: Louis Tomlinson launching his own record label, has already 'signed two acts'
Better Call Saul creator Peter Gould on the creative concerns of a prequel, season 2 and the mind-numbing realities of the small courts
Britain's Got Talent 2015: RSPCA investigating Marc Metral's miming dog after cruelty complaints
One Direction: Louis Tomlinson launching his own record label, has already 'signed two acts'
Tidal CEO leaves Jay Z's music streaming service only a month after it launched
Star Wars 7: The Force Awakens: Luke Skywalker actor Mark Hamill admits he was suspicious of 'Star Trek guy' JJ Abrams
If I’m being racially abused I don’t need a stranger with a saviour complex to rescue me
The only black face in the Ukip manifesto is on the page about overseas aid
Ukip is the only main political party to not address LGBT rights in its manifesto
Food banks: One million Britons will soon be using them, according to Trussell Trust
Religion isn't growing, it is becoming vigorous in its demise, says philosopher AC Grayling
BBC election debate: The one photo that summed up the whole 90-minute leaders debate