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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction


Lurid & Cute

Adam Thirlwell

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To purchase Lurid & Cute

Title: Lurid & Cute
Author: Adam Thirlwell
Genre: Novel
Written: 2015
Length: 359 pages
Availability: Lurid & Cute - US
Lurid & Cute - UK
Lurid & Cute - Canada
Lurid & Cute - India

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Our Assessment:

B- : lots of style, but to too little effect

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
Financial Times . 16/1/2015 Alex Preston
The Guardian . 28/1/2015 Mark Lawson
The Independent . 22/1/2015 Max Liu
The Independent . 31/1/2015 Joseph Charlton
London Rev. of Books . 19/3/2015 Luke Brown
The NY Times . 14/5/2015 John Williams
The NY Times Book Rev. . 26/4/2015 Andrew Ervin
The Spectator . 24/1/2015 Caroline Moore
Sunday Times . 15/2/2015 Adam Lively
The Telegraph . 12/1/2015 Duncan White
The Times . 24/1/2015 John Sutherland
TLS . 18/2/2015 Michael Lapointe
Wall St. Journal . 10/4/2015 Sam Sacks

  Review Consensus:

  Many quite irritated. Appreciate aspects, but generally don't think it's successful

  From the Reviews:
  • "While Lurid & Cute is undoubtedly a comic novel -- I read much of it with a grin plastered across my face -- there is a philosophical seriousness underlying the book that sets it above its predecessors. (...) This problem -- likeability -- will put many off Lurid & Cute. (...) If you can get past this, there is a great deal to admire in Lurid & Cute’s gaudy noir of suburban ennui." - Alex Preston, Financial Times

  • "For a reader agnostic about this novelist, the book induced alternating annoyance and admiration. (...) Lurid & Cute is never a car-crash but confirms this clearly talented and original writer’s tendency to drive even potential believers to despair." - Mark Lawson, The Guardian

  • "Lurid & Cute doesn't lack ideas or jokes and some passages are written with brio. However, while it's tempting to call it "infuriating", that would credit it with eliciting a strong reaction when the overall effect is numbing." - Max Liu, The Independent

  • "What Lurid & Cute lacks in plot, it often, if not always, makes up for with stylistic brio." - Joseph Charlton, The Independent

  • "If Mr. Thirlwell had taken further inspiration from Notes From Underground and kept his new novel to a tidier length, its pleasures would have been even more potent. As it is, the book, like its orgy scene, is both stirring and tiresome." - John Williams, The New York Times

  • "The way time works here -- pulled and stretched, sped up and slowed down -- testifies to Thirlwell’s mastery as a ­storyteller. A string of lies, deceptions and bad decisions provide the makings of a plot, but the real story is this less-than-humble narrator, the dauphin himself. (...) In inhabiting the narrator’s deranged mind so well, and sharing it with us, Adam Thirlwell offers his own evidence for a literary truth: that great characters need not be likable, only fascinating." - Andrew Ervin, The New York Times Book Review

  • "The aesthetic of Lurid & Cute is that of a wide-eyed manga comic, which can contain disturbingly graphic depictions of sex and violence in an innocent-seeming format. (...) (S)elf-deflation can lead to implosion; and the novel is vulnerable to that clever-clever touch too far." - Caroline Moore, The Spectator

  • "(E)ven the ampersand in Lurid & Cute, Thirlwell’s third novel, feels like a provocation. This is certainly not going to be the book that wins over the haters. It’s a kind of pastiche noir (.....) With the mannerisms and indulgences, the facile insights and reflexive playfulness, Thirlwell can charge his reader a steep price, but in the moments he writes like this, it is worth the cost of admission." - Duncan White, The Telegraph

  • "Having entered the realm of the lurid with his affair, the narrator finds his life taking an inevitable course towards violence and dissipation. And it seems this slide is partly shared by his peers. Key to the novel’s moral ambiguity, which the narrator gladly blows over his actions like smoke, is his generation’s penchant for sharing, even "oversharing", both worldly goods and human relations." - Michael Lapointe, Times Literary Supplement

  • "Lurid & Cute mixes the twee enthusiasm of Wes Anderson with the narcissistic ennui of Bret Easton Ellis. But there is also a spirit of play that pervades and brightens Mr. Thirlwell’s weird concoction. The novel seems like a grand prank" - Sam Sacks, Wall Street Journal

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       Lurid & Cute begins promisingly enough, the nameless character waking up in a hotel bed not next to his wife, Candy, but a close friend of theirs, Romy. Not just that -- and not that he notices right away (he has breakfast first) -- but Romy is not in good shape, bleeding, perhaps dead. The narrator is rather hapless, and bumbles his way through this situation, but it quickly becomes clear that that is par for the course: a 'dauphin', spoiled by his parents, he still lives -- with his wife -- at home (although he's already: "kind of thirty") and is generally much-indulged and little questioned by his parents and wife.
       He says early on that he'd describe himself as: "a model citizen" but really that's only plausible in the most limited sense. Instead, his story makes the case that he really isn't much of a citizen at all: coddled by immediate family, who take care of his needs, another major step he admits to early in the novel is having quit his job -- removing himself even further from the everyday workings of society. Among the few he regularly engages with is close friend Hiro -- with whom he gets involved in some petty but not entirely harmless crime activity (rather undermining any claims to model citizenship).
       The narrator is not a couch potato -- "I was hyperactive and a slacker both together -- a hyperslacker !" -- but he is adrift in these times. He suggests:

Maybe in some far-off century if you wanted to reinvent the social contract you would have done it with more squalor, living underground in isolation, and losing yourself in crazy monologues and financial worry and hunger; but in this very bright time it also seemed that you could do it more softly -- just in this desire to create a more adventurous existence: with friendships, love affairs, extra r extended families.
       The narrator eventually reveals he is writing retrospectively -- "way beyond the events I am now recounting" -- in which his situation has changed. He describes some of these changes along the way, tracing his (mis)steps. "It's not so easy to be me", he argued at one point -- but in his ill-considered actions (something Thirlwell presents very well, capturing his inevitable-seeming and yet completely unnecessary road to ruin amusingly well) doesn't make things any easier; indeed, he seems incapable of it.
       He shares a dislike for confrontation with his wife, which explains to some extent why their marriage works for as long as it does, but as with much in the book, parts are missing -- Thirlwell throws Candy and the narrator together, presenting them as a married couple, yet it's hard to fathom how they could have ever wound up there (and then living at his parents' place, etc.). Part of this might be denial on the part of the narrator, an unwillingness to reveal anything beyond the carefully circumscribed circumstances he wants to relate -- after all, he also claims early on: "I wish confessions did not ever need to happen. Confessions, it seemed to me, were a total illness of our time" -- part Thirlwell's world-view focus on situations as-is, delving only selectively into past and character-evolution (though it is noteworthy that the narrator describes and in part blames his happy, coddled upbringing for his present state).
       Among the narrator's reasons for quitting his job was a desire to try something different; he sees himself becoming an artist. Perhaps to explain his lifestyle then, he tweaks that idea -- so, for example: "I preferred the idea that a life might be a work of art instead" -- yet Thirlwell's creation, and the course Thirlwell sets him on, make for a rather limited work of art.
       Much in Lurid & Cute has some appeal. Thirlwell's style and expression makes for entertaining reading. It's all over the place -- allusive, warped, tricky -- but certainly engaging. His less than likeable narrator is intriguing too, at least on some levels. Yet ultimately what Thirlwell does with all this isn't truly satisfying -- it doesn't seem to go anywhere, at least not nearly far enough, and it desperately feels like it needs to go somewhere; it isn't compelling enough simply as is. A lot of the bits are -- often uncomfortably -- impressive and amusing, but the whole is rather a disappointment.

- M.A.Orthofer, 28 April 2015

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Lurid & Cute: Reviews: Adam Thirlwell: Other books by Adam Thirlwell under review: Other books of interest under review:
  • See Index of Contemporary British fiction at the complete review

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About the Author:

       British author Adam Thirlwell was born in 1978.

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© 2015 the complete review

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