Grotesque fascination

Bed by David Whitehouse, Canongate, RRP£7.99, 297 pages

In childhood Mal would compulsively disrobe in public. After one particularly trying family holiday he remained defiantly naked for a fortnight. Later, his girlfriend, Lou, introduces a degree of stability but, in his 20s, Mal takes to his bed for two decades.

David Whitehouse’s bizarre tale holds a grotesque fascination. As Mal – fussed and fed by his cloyingly ineffectual mother – balloons into an obese media-celebrated freak raddled with maladies, his family warp their lives around him, even moving the interior walls of their suburban home to accommodate his gargantuan body.

Mal’s dysfunctional behaviour eclipses the life of his younger brother, whose lonely narration becomes the quiet domestic tragedy of this engrossing but unsettling novel. The sadness of lives unfulfilled, buffeted by other, larger events, lends gravity to a compelling debut, which handles unusual material with confidence and flashes of dry, satirical humour.

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