Heaven or Hell? – Kimberly’s Capital Punishment by Richard Milward

kimboKimberly’s Capital Punishment is the strangest novel I have read in some time. It is roughly 5 parts genius, 3 parts peculiar and 2 parts revolting. It’s not a book I could possibly recommend because the last chapter is so gross, gratuitous and borderline misogynistic, that it almost renders what came before obsolete. Which is a shame.

Whilst the of the book is not without gut-churning sexual-violence, it did at least seem to be mitigated by the narrative and themes of the novel. The final pages of the book say nothing at all, and add nothing of value to anything anybody might ever say about anything, ever.

In places Milward’s turn of phrase and observation take the breath away. He is clearly a man with writing talent to burn. The novel opens when Kimberly Clark finds her boyfriend hanging from the bars of a children’s playground. Her role in this tragedy? She wilfully made her beau’s life a misery, and now he’s killed himself.

Not surprisingly this has a detrimental effect on her well-being. Just as she hits rock bottom she has something of an epiphany, and decides that in recompense for hounding her boyfriend to death, she will start to do only good deeds. A brilliant plan, only it turns out being altruistic can get you into a lot of bother.

Milward’s depiction of the grimy streets of North London, is vivid, almost tangible. He captures the voice of young adults trying to make the best of life on limited funds and a surplus of time. It’s an accurate snapshot of twenty-first century urban living. (I think; I’m forty and live in Surrey). Kimberly’s attempts to make other people’s lives brighter, are funny and filled with pathos. If there is a wider point here, it may be something as simple as ‘nice girls finish last.’ Her attempts to cheer up the lives of seven men by juggling dates with them ends with predictable disaster.

Whilst elements of these dates are entertaining and make valid comments on contemporary society, it was at this point that Milward started to lose me. Some of the events start to turn unsavoury and downright peculiar. I don’t consider myself a prude, but perhaps I am; I certainly I found some passages in very bad taste. The rough and not-entirely-consensual sex Kimberly undergoes as she does her penance, began to make the novel tawdry and uninteresting.

Just as the novel begins to lose its way, there isn’t so much a change in direction as a leap off a cliff and plummet into a parallel dimension. With this abrupt turn of events, the book becomes something else altogether; a ‘choose your own adventure’.

Well it doesn’t really. There are multiple endings, which can theoretically be read in any order, but you’ll probably still read them straight through. From here the book becomes wildly inventive before crashing down in an unholy mess.

I really enjoyed some of these section. There is a disturbing, entertaining and freakishly plausible rendering of heaven. A wonderful depiction of reincarnation and a mind-bending post-modern court room drama that pulls the reader and writer into the narrative. It had me in thrall until the end of the court scene when then wheels start to come off in a very bad way.

I wish I could have the time back I spent reading the final chapter of the book. Until then, this was a greatly inventive novel. Not all of the ideas worked, but enough of them did, brilliantly, to make this a invigorating if uneven read. I just don’t get what the author was trying to show at the end here (well I sort of do, but he fails), and it left me with nothing but the bitter taste of disappointment. There is some excellent writing of great value here but the destination was definitely not worth the journey. Proceed with caution.

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