Book Review | The Late Hector Kipling by David Thewlis

I’m a little late to this masterpiece of a book (I had to make that pun), but after a friendly referral and a quick order from my library, I had the book in hand and finished within a weekend (and only because real life kept distracting me).

What’s it about?

Hector Kipling is a famous artist. But Hector is not as famous as his best friend, Lenny Snook. And as they are standing in the Tate Gallery one afternoon, Hector’s life begins to unravel. For a painter, this existential crisis is the place from which great art is born. If the painter happens to be a forty-three-year-old man with a girlfriend away from home, it is the recipe for disaster.

Soon it’s all Hector can do to keep it together — between his therapist who shows up drunk at a party and introduces herself to his parents, an irresistible young female poet with a terrifying taste for S&M, and a deranged stalker with an oil-and-canvas-inspired vendetta, just trying to cope is enough to make a man cry.

As the events in his life threaten to drive him toward full-blown dementia, Hector finds himself in a bizarre and murderous pursuit of a man threatening to kill him in return, spiraling into a hysterically surreal Hitchcocklike thriller — the story of how a man can become desperate enough to shoot his way out of a midlife crisis.

At turns warm, witty, and joyfully absurd, David Thewlis’s wicked comedy marks the debut of a savagely funny and observant literary talent.

– Goodreads synopsis

Review (Spoilers Abound)

You know how the Big Lebowski is a movie all about a rug? Well, The Late Hector Kipling is a book all about a settee. The settee seems to take on a life of it’s own, as if it is a character itself. The settee is at the heart of every major realization and change that the main character goes through in this book. The Late Hector Kipling treads into dark territory, confronting feelings about fidelity, friendship, and death, told from the perspective of a moderately successful artist who got his big break by painting the face of a man who hanged himself in the flat next door. At parts horrifying, at some laughable, this book is anything but boring.

β€œI walk to Oxford Street and climb on the number 8. It’s freezing and it starts to rain and it’s the ugliest bus I’ve ever seen, rattling down the ugliest streets, in the ugliest city, in the ugliest country, in the ugliest of all possible worlds.”
― David Thewlis, The Late Hector Kipling

The Late Hector Kipling reads like American Psycho, with fast-paced stream of consciousness, bizarre thought threads that meander into weirder places, and details that pin this work in a specific day, time, and age. This book does little to not date itself, instead drawing references and quips from the era it was written. And while it can be said that protagonists are often good people, or at the very least redeemable, Hector Kipling spirals further and further into gross, irrational mental distress.

Is it comical? Yes.

Is it cringe-worthy? Also yes.

As I read through this book, I was so ready to experience the protagonist turn around that many anti-heroes experience in the course of a novel’s plot arc. Instead, Hector disappoints again and again, first when he decides to cheat on his wife, and later when he decides to sneak into the flat of a man who has proclaimed he wants to murder him and his entire family (spoiler warning: the dog doesn’t make it out alive). Hector is given chance after chance to do the right thing, but always chooses the self-indulgent, hedonistic path instead of doing what is right. In what could be considered the ultimate show of a midlife crisis, David Thewlis paints a story of a man who is sick and tired of living the ordinary day-to-day life; constantly being compared to his gorgeous heartstopper of a friend, Lenny, dealing with the fact that one of his best friends is dying, and being confined in a relationship with a woman whom he used to love dearly. Suddenly everything he once loved turns into an annoyance. Suddenly all the guises and personas that Hector has worked so hard to craft his life around begin to crumble away, and what lies beneath is the sad realization that nothing matters.

Should You Read It?

  • The pace and banter in this book are similar to themes in American Psycho by Bret Easton Ellis.
  • The central focus on an inanimate object to drive the plot forward is reminiscent of The big Lebowski.
  • Dealing with issues of mental distress and death draws some parallels with The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath.

If you are a fan of dark humor, modern realism in fiction, or books about over-the-top mid life crisis shenanigans, this book is for you!

Happy reading,
The Literary Kat

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