IN BRIEF

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The Independent Culture
Hope by Glen Duncan, Viking pounds 9.99. This debut opens with the "I" of the story, Gabriel Jones, in the bath, suffering an "unfinished wank". The narrative tells retrospectively how he got himself into such a bad way and begs the question: can he get out?

The setting is mainly contemporary London, and the characters are predominantly disenfranchised youth who sit around in housing co-ops with Swiss rolls and Chianti discussing Nietzsche and Sigourney Weaver. The premise is that Gabriel has fucked hope by fucking Hope, a high-class prostitute, when he could still be happy with his first love, Alicia - who may have precipitated his downfall by asking him to choose porn mags for her Art and Morality seminar.

Angela Carter observed: "A moral pornographer might use pornography as a critique of the relationship between the sexes." If Glen Duncan intended to do this, he hasn't succeeded. The metaphorical virgin, Alicia, and the actual whore, Hope, are idealised. The only realistic woman's body - it has stretch marks - is that of a stripper, who is made to look absurd. Duncan's writing is unrestrained, which is both a strength (there's exuberance) and a weakness. The reader is pummelled by mixed metaphors and inappropriate quips. One sentence goes on for 16 lines. However, scenes that could easily have been melodramatic are disturbing, particularly pivotal revelations of childhood abuse. Josie Barnard

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