Paperback review: Kimberly's Capital Punishment, By Richard Milward

Art-school exuberance that scoffs at taste

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The Independent Culture

Walking in the park one afternoon, Kimberly Clark discovers her boyfriend's body hanging from a climbing frame. Bored with gentle, stuttering Steve, Kimberly had been treating him badly, in the hope that he'd end the relationship himself; instead, he has taken his own life. Distraught, and desperate to atone for her behaviour, Kimberly throws herself into a frenzy of altruism.

From this point, Richard Milward's third novel escalates from an offbeat character study into a rambunctious experiment in typography and narrative form. The latter half of the book is an interactive game in the "choose your own adventure" mode, with Kimberly finding either damnation or redemption – "if you roll a six, Kimberly burns in hell. Turn to page 413…" – in blackly comic visions of the afterlife.

I'm not sure the book has anything profound to tell us about fate or karma, and it won't be to everyone's taste. But Milward's quicksilver inventiveness, which seems motivated by a truly weird sense of humour, provokes a sort of bewildered admiration. If nothing else, this novel contains the most harrowing depiction of human-pinniped sexual relations I have ever read.

Milward is part of a new wave of young British novelists with a background in the visual arts, who are refreshing contemporary fiction with new ideas in much the same way as art-school graduates once reinvigorated British pop music. With his flamboyance and healthy disregard for literary good taste, Milward is certainly a writer who knows that ridicule is nothing to be scared of.