FICTION

The Bloater

New Directions Sept. 2022. 160p. ISBN 9780811234566. pap. $15.95. F
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Redolent of Swinging-Sixties London, Tonks’s brilliant sex comedy reveals sobering depths beneath its flashing surface. A recording editor for the BBC, Min is consumed with finding a lover. Of course George, “the man I’m married to,” is out of the question, as is sympathetic confirmed bachelor Claudi. Her clever colleague Billy seems promising, but square in her path is Carlos, aka “The Bloater,” an operatic baritone whose outsized, fragrantly masculine presence she finds both fascinating and repellent. Min chews over such dilemmas along with astringent cheese sandwiches with her more self-assured but no less bewildered coworker Jenny. All of this is narrated via a dense web of droll observations that might seem profligate if they weren’t so stunningly apt, like a more manic Dorothy Parker. Min’s caustic wit scours away at the sordid physicality of the world, as betrayed by her gouty toe and the Bloater’s inescapable smell. As Claudi observes, “Really sometimes I wish to God there was some way out of it quickly.” (“It” meaning life.)
VERDICT Long a cult rarity owing to Tonks’s subsequent religious conversion and renunciation of her writing, the revival of this beguiling 1967 novel restores a truly original voice to the shelves; a must.
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