It’s hard to review a novel by Ned Beauman without calling him a show-off. But the thing about being a show-off is that you can’t be one unless you’re exceptionally good at whatever it is you’re showing off. ‘Show-off’ is really a term of covetous approbation – the compliment that envy pays to achievement. It would be easy to haul Beauman before the bench on charges of what Clive James used to call stunt writing: look at all these elaborate similes, Your Honour! Look at this preposterously convoluted plot! Better, perhaps, to say, with admiration: Beauman is very, very good at what he does.
But what is it, exactly, that he does? By page fifty of Beauman’s fourth novel, Madness Is Better than Defeat, the following events have occurred: a wrestler has been anally violated by an octopus; a renowned Cambridge anthropologist, wearing only ‘a kilt of bark and a necklace of flowers’, has