Blue Ruin by Hari Kunzru - review by David Anderson

David Anderson

Back to the Future

Blue Ruin


Scribner UK 272pp £20

From his debut novel, The Impressionist (2002), onwards, Hari Kunzru has used his fiction to interrogate some of the central sources of contemporary disquiet and what it means to be human in an ever more connected but less cohesive world. Blue Ruin is the culmination of a loose trilogy that includes White Tears (2017) and Red Pill (2020). Like its predecessors, the novel offers a challenging, sometimes dizzying exploration of the links between culture, power and aesthetic representation while remaining compulsively readable.

Like White Tears and Red Pill, Blue Ruin centres on a male narrator protagonist whose experience of personal breakdown – of becoming ‘unmoored’, as the narrator of Red Pill puts it – is bound up with a deeper sensation of social and political catastrophe. Each novel stages this crisis in relation to a particular art form, probing the tensions between the highbrow and the popular. White Tears focuses on two white American college boys and music obsessives who confect a ‘lost’ blues track and share it online, only to open a Pandora’s box of historical violence that reaches urgently into the present. In Red Pill, the narrator is a writer of quasi-­academic books about aesthetics and poetry whose project on ‘the lyric I’ is shunted off course when he meets the creator of a disturbing American cop show whose script contains rarefied allusions to far-right ideology. 

In Blue Ruin, the focus is contemporary art, specifically the now-historical ‘contemporary’ art of 1990s London. In a disclaimer, Kunzru asserts that none of his fictional artworld personae are based on real individuals, but in numerous aspects the novel is faithful to the record. Kunzru’s depictions of jostling artists,

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