Literary reviews by Tim Love.
Warning: Rather than reviews, these are often notes in preparation for reviews that were never finished, or pleas for help with understanding pieces. See Litref Reviews - a rationale for details.

Wednesday, 12 April 2017

"Subtle Bodies" by Norman Rush (Granta, 2013)

53 numbered sections, some half a page long, some a dozen or so pages. Ned (48, a campaign organiser) has rushed off to the funeral of Douglas, an old friend who died in an accident. Douglas was the charismatic leader of a gang of 5 idealistic students who have kept in touch. The survivors meet at Douglas's big, isolated house. They discuss Douglas and the changes in themselves. His widow and strange son Hume (14) are there. Ned's partner, Nina (37) wants to get pregnant (the trick is to do headstands after). She has a quirky mother - an astrologist - whose advise she follows. Without warning, Nina catches up with Ned while he's with his friends because she's ovulating.

The females want babies. The males want women and power. I began to wonder what the twist was going to be - Elliot killed Douglas to get his hands on his wife and the estate? Douglas faked his death to find out what others thought of him, or for insurance?

The prose is jaunty -

He said, "I know you like to keep on about my supposed anarchism, but for a change you go ahead and come up with a better system of your own."
"Well under anarchism would the trains run on time?"
After a pause, he said, "Trains? what trains?"
All this had only been a diversion meant to distract him so she could get into the bathroom ahead of him. She laughed as she won the race.

Why the title? Well, "the question was still there of whether their true interior selves - the subtle bodies inside - were still there", p.198.

Other reviews

  • Rachel Cusk (Subtle Bodies is a novel whose assumptions are so thoroughly back to front that it offers an oddly lucid account of its own shortcomings)
  • Geoff Dyer (A creaking of novelistic machinery can be heard as the gathering’s darker purpose is winched into action but not loudly enough to disturb our stay in these sprightly pages)
  • Andrew Marszal (Subtle Bodies never allows its characters to move beyond the glib and unlikable. While sporadically moving, this novel suffers the same fate


  1. Dear Tim

    I was in Waterstones in Swansea last week and it was a bit of a shock paying the cover price for the handful of books I bought. I was going to buy Simon Armitage's latest volume but when I saw that Fabers wanted fifteen quid for it I suddenly changed my mind. I'm not in the least surprised that Amazon is wiping the floor with Waterstones.

    Best wishes from Simon R Gladdish

  2. I make do with libraries for the most part. Having not bought the books I feel no obligation to like them, as my write-ups show.