Review: Helen Marten’s debut novel The Boiled in Between

The Boiled in Between is the debut novel by Turner Prize-winning artist Helen Marten, a work of fiction that will surely be acclaimed for its author’s bold and innovative geist. The novel puts into forefront a myriad of vital questions relevant for all who tend to delve deeper into matters of both life and language. It can be claimed that one of its biggest strengths lies in that it shows, ever so subtly, the interplay of our world that is founded upon metaphor and symbolism, and the relationships we form among ourselves.

The narrative flows tenderly, and has no violent jumps even at its most heart-breaking and sorrowful moments. It is shared by three voices: the Messrs, Ethan and Patrice, and as such always partakes in a moving sequence, which made me think of the Nobel Prize-winning Polish author Olga Tokarczuk, and her magnanimous novel Flights, which, too, is a stunning feat of prose writing that is never grounded, but is characterized by always being in motion. In order to succeed in such a writing endeavour, an author must be very skilled in portraying how the voices of the characters traverse the distances between them, and how they act when their paths collide. Marten does this wonderfully, and I’d never believe that this is her debut novel, so much is she already aware of the subtleties of her craft.

Not only is this a strong narrative of movement, that is also movement itself, as we’ve already established, but it is a masterpiece of imagery, too. With its bold and experimental usage of images, it strikes a chord with readers who can do nothing else but surrender to the wonderful flow of picturesque strings of sentences that are always part of a bigger movement, and never still. Admirers of Ali Smith’s oeuvre will surely be amazed by Marten’s debut, for both writers endeavour to master creating outstanding mental pictures with language, and in that attempt they succeed, for the language flows in all its beauty and complexity, just like the strokes of a paint brush.

“The beach is not human although it reeks of entropy with its avian aesthetics so bleak and cinematic with only a few people around. A few people people and the tide and arctic giants of cloud. Holiday landscapes amaze in winter when their blackened trees write out a calligraphy against the creamy emptiness. Summer stretches bring forth cars and an agitation of bodies with their all-too-visible emergencies.

The two of them used to practice on the sand, walking, feet no longer feet, but extensions of a moral force, a pride in that force contained within two solid bodies. The details came out then: one leg shorter than another, a vague ache because of it; the sand itself groaning and collapsing all its billions of silicate granules, little gems between their toes.”

The Boiled in Between is a philosophic and tactile piece of writing, created by a talented writer, whose craft will surely be praised in the future. The novel is a stellar kick start, and we highly recommend it as your end-of-Summer read.

Publication date: 14 September 2020

Publisher: Prototype Publishing

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