Greta, the protagonist of Jen Beagin’s latest novel Big Swiss, has fallen in love with a voice. In a sort of deranged update to that old Judy Holliday musical Bells are Ringing, Greta works as an audio transcriptionist for a sex therapist and has become obsessed with a client who she christens Big Swiss. Deeper and deeper Greta falls into her obsession in this genuinely hilarious novel that will surely be one of the hot books of the summer.
Beagin is one of the few authors we have who is genuinely capable of writing a comic novel. It is because she is not fussed with actually telling jokes through prose, but instead allows her characters to find themselves in absolutely ridiculous situations. There is a touch of Pynchon about this approach, and you have to wonder why so many other writers find it so difficult?
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We have been so inundated with so-called comic novels recently that I have found myself replying to their cover’s exclamations of “hilarious!” and “cracking!” with the words “to who?” Usually, these books are funny to specifically the type of person who would be asked to write cover blurbs, they are books where the comic slant is just the narrator’s occasionally deadpan observations. And if you are looking for specifically that type of novel, you could just read Vanity Fair again.
Take it from me, I haven’t laughed at a novel this much since James Hannaham’s brilliant Didn’t Nobody Give a Shit What Happened to Carlotta. Beagin is at her apex here and so many of the novel’s scenes have found themselves seared into my brain with the sheer nonsense of them all. Run to this novel!
Barry Pierce is a journalist and cultural commentator