Fiction: “The Late Hector Kipling” by David Thewlis

First, let me address your first question: yes, it is that David Thewlis. The one that played Professor Lupin in the Harry Potter movies. But you won’t find a single vestige of that boy wizard in this novel.

The narrator is Harold Kipling, and Kipling happens to be an artist. The book starts with him and his artist friend, Lenny Snook, wandering the halls of the Tate, looking at art. When gazing at a painting by Edvard Munch, Kipling begins to bawl, and thus begins Kipling’s downward spiral. His girlfriend, Eleni, has to go back to Crete to be with her mother, who’s dying from severe burns. One of his best friends, Kirk Church, has been diagnosed with a brain tumor. Lenny is a finalist for a prestigious art award and Hector may or may not be experiencing pangs of jealousy. And when I say “may or may not,” I’m not being coy — Kipling genuinely doesn’t know.

Another contributing factor to Kipling’s downfall is the settee belonging to his parents. That piece starts when blood is spilled on the white settee. After it’s ruined, his mother goes out and buys another settee, which cost upwards of 800 pounds. The large expenditure gives his father a panic attack, sending him to the hospital.

Meanwhile, while Eleni is in Crete, Kipling engages in an affair with a twenty-year-old American poet named Rosa Flood. Rosa Flood happens to have an interest in S&M.

And on top of all that, Kipling has a show at a gallery, including a portrait of a dead man. On the opening, the dead man’s son defaces the portrait and then runs away. Later, he turns up and offers Kipling a solution to his parents’ settee problem, which in turn seals the deal on Kipling’s full psychotic breakdown.

I can’t really say much more than that without giving away the farm. I was impressed with Thewlis’s writing, although, the more I think on it, I’m not sure ‘impressed’ is the word I’m looking for. After all, I’ve always had an assumption that all British actors are well-read and great writers. Even Russell Brand, and I didn’t like his book hardly at all. But Thewlis’s novel had a very Beckett-like quality to the dialogue, which I enjoy. And Thewlis (through Kipling) tries to understand what death does to us all – how we interact with it, what we feel when loved ones are threatened by it, what we think about it. He has an interesting take on it, linking it to the art world and especially how artists interact with death through their art.

The two things I didn’t like about the book really had nothing to do with the plot; it was a matter of taste. First, Kipling mentioned that Lichtenstein was a douche. To which I say: LICHTENSTEIN is NOT a DOUCHE. He happens to be one of my favorite artists, and I appreciate the themes he illustrates using comic book techniques.  (In other words, shut up Brad, you don’t know what you’re talking about.)  Also, he mentioned Chuck Klose. I HAAAATE Chuck Klose. He’s disturbing and crazy.

Anyway. This was an interesting read. I finished it in a few days, and when I wasn’t reading it, I did think about what was going to happen in the plot, which I think is always a good sign. Will I read it again? I’m not sure. If he writes another book, will I read it? Again, I don’t know. But if you like art and weird shit happening, then sure, have at it?

Grade for The Late Hector Kipling: 2 stars

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