‘All human life is binary’, explains a Vestal Virgin to the time-travelling heroine of Ranjit Bolt’s verse novel, Losing It. Young and lovely, Lucy’s plan is to lose her virginity. Entertainingly delivered, it’s an engaging subject, universal and rich in comic scope.
Bolt’s burlesque is a frolicsome addition to a scanty genre, reminiscent of The Canterbury Tales via Pope’s ‘The Rape of the Lock’. He plunders deep erudition for this bawdy bildungsroman; not so much virtue rewarded as its abandonment thwarted.
Desperate to be deflowered, Lucy takes up residence with her witch-like Aunt Alicia, complicit but capricious, in a gothically cast modern-day Hampstead (‘With more quaint nooks and strange dead ends/ Than teenage girls have Facebook friends’). The path to vice proves frustratingly primrose, however, and Bolt’s rattling iambic tetrameter couplets trip with references that render this a coterie caper, full of allusive charm for the classically read (blink and you’ll miss ‘quite a tedious writer there, Who’d been translating Molière’) but coy on detail. Asterisks spare blushes, bestowing an endearing innocence on lusty Lucy and her encounters, crystallised in the Duncan Grant-cum-Greek vase illustrations (see above).
Marshalling Homeric epithet with brazen cliché, Bolt delivers a mock-heroic, Feydeauish romp. Whether or not Lucy clinches it, her tangle with a lisping Casanova, alongside those with Dick Turpin and Julius Caesar, is priceless, as they perform a complicated manoeuvre from which only 12 butter pats can give release.
Subscribe to The Spectator today for a quality of argument not found in any other publication. Get more Spectator for less – just £12 for 12 issues.