Lurid & Cute by Adam Thirlwell, book review: Still the next big thing

What Lurid & Cute lacks in plot, it often makes up for with stylistic brio

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The Independent Culture

Remember Harmony Korine’s 2012 film, Spring Breakers, about a group of college girls who travel to Florida in order to drink, party, take drugs, and perform armed robberies while wearing pink ski-masks?

Adam Thirlwell’s Lurid & Cute is like that – but minus the beaches and hip-hop. Thirlwell, in case you haven’t heard, has been the next big thing for a few years now. His first novel, Politics, was about threesomes in north London, and his second, Kapow!, was a digressive take on the Arab Spring. Both books pleased writers but dissatisfied critics. Tom Stoppard, Milan Kundera and Michael Frayn have signed up as quotable dust-jacket-friendly fans, but Thirlwell has continued to evade the love of most newspaper reviewers, or indeed a larger public audience.

Lurid & Cute, his third, is bound for a similar fate. Set in a hazy dystopia, it’s a writerly romp through an unnamed but undoubtedly charmless “megapolis” – set somewhere, we presume, in the near future. Thirlwell’s first-person narrator is as charmless as his surroundings. The novel opens with him waking up to find his mistress having overdosed on ketamine, and continues in much the same vein. We are treated to an orgy, several hold-ups with the use of fake firearms, and a drab description of paying for sex in a sauna.

Little, if anything, connects these incidents other than Thirlwell’s desire to create a literary universe beset by malaise and ennui. His characters are miserable – both to themselves and each other. “It’s like you just do things because of porn,” mistress tells narrator at one point, “like take coming on my face. I do not like it. I am not interested. I do not want come all over my mouth.”

Of course, Thirlwell is no more enamoured with this set of hipster wastrels then we are. His aim here, as in Politics and Kapow!, is style, and frequently it dazzles. Take the moment Thirlwell’s narrator, bored and unemployed, considers his dog-sitter:

“I sometimes think of the life he lives, to be with cats and dogs whom other people love and yet love them in some secret way like maybe a mistress loves a husband – I mean there is something secret and unregarded about this love, when perhaps he loves these animals more than anyone else, but still he is forced to leave them, he is forced to say goodbye in a totally casual way.”

What Lurid & Cute lacks in plot, it often, if not always, makes up for with stylistic brio. If Thirlwell can discover the former for his fourth, expect fireworks.

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