If you want a novel that’s visceral, grotesque, hilarious, dark and somehow leaves you with a grim secondhand hangover, Eliza Clark’s debut, Boy Parts, is the one. That being said, it’s also rife with content warnings so proceed with caution.
Irina is a fetish artist from Newcastle. She likes to photograph men in vulnerable and compromising positions and doesn’t always realise when she’s gone too far. Or she does, but just doesn’t care. She knows her conventional beauty can hide a multitude of sins. An unreliable, narcissistic and downright horrible narrator at times, Boy Parts follows the six months or so in the lead up to Irina’s London exhibition, which she coincidentally lands soon after being put on sabbatical from her job at a pub.
Obsessively scouting the streets and aisles of her local Tesco for her next model, Irina manages to get by with a bag of salad for dinner most days and generous pay cheques from a mysterious online donor. Moving from London, a city of immense opportunity for art sector jobs, where she studied a bachelors and masters in art to the North East, which receives far less funding, is a point of contention for Irina. Since moving back she has all but fallen off the radar and you can’t help but side with the derisive comments she makes about her privileged London-born peers.
Mostly told through the perspective of Irina, almost like an internal monologue, we witness her obsession with appearance, with certain men, with drugs and alcohol, with making her best friend, Flo, jealous. Flo’s secret (but not so secret) blog posts highlight that she is aware of how Irina manipulates her, yet she is content to vent and carry on participating in this vicious cycle. As the novel progresses, the control Irina has over her own narrative begins to slip. Memories from her past resurface and project themselves onto her present, or do they? It’s not clear, and that uncertainty is deliberate.
Compared to the likes of Bret Easton Ellis’ American Psycho, which I haven’t read personally but have heard experiences from friends which is enough to put me off, Clark’s debut is infused with a freshness of perspective. The observations Irina makes are astute and cut to the bone. The secondary characters orbiting around her, unable to sever ties, allow her to get away with an unspeakable number of horrors all because they are enamoured by her beauty. In Irina, Clark makes very clear that beauty and thinness does not equate to goodness.
Boy Parts is an incredibly compelling and immersive read that evokes a lot of pretty strong emotions. It may not be for everyone but I thought it was inventive and brilliantly written with touches of humour, although dark, to lift the mood. I look forward to what Eliza Clark publishes next.