Victims of Circumstance – I am Max Lamm by Raphael Brous

maxlammI am Max Lamm is not exactly a novel to love. It’s central characters are shallow and unlikeable with few redeeming features. What’s clever about it is that despite this Brous shows that they could be almost any one of us. If this dark, edgy tale tells us anything, it’s that we’re all victims of circumstance. That and the press are a horde of unconscionable bastards.

The novel opens with a murder. A bottle attack during the London night. The victim a young Pakistani Muslim. The press reaction – hysterical; A hate crime by a vile racist. The reality is a little different. Max Lamm, a young failed tennis prodigy is the killer. Attacked late at night, victim of an attempted mugging, he smashed his assailant over the head with the beer bottle he was carrying. The speed and force of his blow, accentuated by his athlete’s reactions, made the strike fatal. Now he is on the run, hiding in Hyde park contemplating how he, a boy with the world at his feet, ended up there.

This a short angry polemic on the absurdities of modern life. The press gets it both barrels, portrayed as scaremongering sensationalists, never afraid to let the truth get in the way of a good story. The unfolding investigation and its portrayal in the media form the background to the novel. Through flashbacks we learn of Lamm’s hedonistic lifestyle and his fall from grace as Tennis’s enfant terrible. The novel is given a geopolitical flavour when Lamm becomes involved with the messed up daughter of a US Republican politician.

The central message I took home from this novel is that we are all victims of circumstance. Whether it be a disaffected youth who feels that mugging an innocent passer-by might ease the misery of his existence, the tennis protege whose dalliance with a prostitute is exposed by a disgruntled stablemate or the prostitute herself, an illegal immigrant, desperate to escape the living hell of own country, they are all united by their helplessness in the face of external forces beyond their control. It’s a controversial point of view, but Brous’s vision is a compelling one.

Shit happens, but what’s important is how you deal with it. Each of the novel’s characters gets to choose how they react to the events that make up their lives, and they mostly do so badly. It is these reactions that generates much of the novel’s interest.

I’m finding surprisingly difficult to sum up I am Max Lamm. I thoroughly enjoyed it, but find it hard to articulate exactly why. It’s the sort of book you have to try for yourself. It’s very black, filled with horrible people, yet the story is compelling. As a whole it’s far-fetched, but the individual components are all too plausible. It’s a book laced with humour, black of course and it is an angry novel. An angry novel that paints a dark view of the world, but it’s a view I identify with. I think there is something of Max in all of us. ‘I am Max Lamm’. –  ‘No. I am Max Lamm’.  Recommended

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