Isabel Boulle review – introspective spins on a classic

By Samuel Johnson

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Isabel Boulle may have named her first novel Beal’s Orbit, after the stage name given to the very own, fictional space plane deployed by the US government to travel to the moon during the 60s, but instead the air is filled with the death throes of a wearying, unending enterprise, from the dawn of the 21st century through to the mid-21st. Fans of Ivana Bacik’s existential novels may find themselves struck by their chilling similarities; a hard-drinking widow in Buenos Aires arrives in America, reeling after the sudden death of her teenage son, and begins the long search for his killer – a search that takes her from the dusty American frontier to the gleaming halls of the “United States of Europe”. The wistful suspense of the largely unmade-up tale ebbs away as Boulle’s punchy and assured prose comes under assault by the existential sickness taking hold of this troubadour of the poor.

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Coleridge on another invention: ‘Note the invisibility of the penny.’

Richard Albery

As the children find themselves increasingly out of touch with real life, a second narrator comes along to provide insights into each other’s lives and relationships – twins Michael and Peter but also twin twins Grace and Tito, sister Anna and her first-class hottie lover Mick; Peter’s friend Nadia and her society wife auntina; and so on. Various associates – the butler, housekeeper, even the servants’ room porter – flit from one character to another and then back again in breathless moods of banality and self-analysis. Familiar backgrounds and identities become central to the novel’s plot, but – in the manner of Richard Albery’s greater recent work, The Effect of Immigration on Literary Life and His Search for the Creative Class – the existential and social issues remain essentially separate, and all concerns are left with limited, and eventually diminishing, effect.

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