Stuart Kelly

Close to extinction: Venomous Lumpsucker, by Ned Beauman, reviewed

The most intelligent fish in existence is in danger of disappearing altogether when its breeding grounds are destroyed by a mining company

Ned Beauman. [Getty Images]

Ned Beauman’s novels are like strange attractors for words with the letter ‘Z’. They zip, zing, fizz, dazzle and sizzle. They are a bizarre bazaar of pizzazz. Some readers no doubt might find his form of literary hyperactivity exhausting. Personally, I find it exhilarating. In part this is because the novels do not just have propulsive plotting but the ideas are high-octane as well. Venomous Lumpsucker does not pause for breath, yet simultaneously induces a weary, melancholy exhalation.

The venomous lumpsucker in question throws together two very different characters and works as an effective McGuffin for the novel. Mark Halyard is the environmental impact coordinator (Northern Europe) for the Brahmasamudram Mining Company. At an industry conference, he is nearly flattened by a giant teratoma, a biological blob cloned from the cells of the last non-cloned panda. But his real problems involve Karin Resaint, a scientist whose job is to assess the intelligence of said venomous lumpsucker.

Unfortunately for Halyard, it seems that Resaint believes the lumpsucker is the most intelligent fish in existence, and therefore protected. Even worse, a software glitch means the ‘autonomous mining vehicle’ has just pulverised the lumpsuckers’ breeding grounds. So the ill-matched pair ricochet around Europe to try and find any venomous lumpsuckers that have eluded the cataclysm. ‘She seems to think that fish is some kind of Einstein,’ Mark growls. ‘Have you even seen it? It doesn’t even look clever by fish standards. It looks stupid for a fish.’

There are of course other twists which are so elegantly done it would be sinful to rob the reader of the pleasure. The various journeys give ample room for Karin and Mark to bicker about environmental damage, climate change, animal intelligence, moral responsibility and much more.

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