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2.1 6
by Adam Thirlwell

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Politics is about: a) a threesome; b) politics

Moshe loves Nana. But love can be difficult — especially if you want to be kind. And Moshe and Nana want to be kind to someone else.

They want to be kind to their best friend, Anjali.

Politics explores crucial problems of sexual etiquette. What should the sleeping arrangements be in a ménage


Politics is about: a) a threesome; b) politics

Moshe loves Nana. But love can be difficult — especially if you want to be kind. And Moshe and Nana want to be kind to someone else.

They want to be kind to their best friend, Anjali.

Politics explores crucial problems of sexual etiquette. What should the sleeping arrangements be in a ménage-à-trois? Is it polite to read while two people have sex beside you? Is it permissible to be jealous?

Editorial Reviews

A.S. Byatt
“Extremely accomplished...very sophisticated.”
Neel Mukherjee
“One of the funniest, most stylish and utterly original debuts in years… To the nebulous mix of motives that inspire human action, Thirlwell brings the clarity of an essayist such as Montaigne and the deadpan humour of Buster Keaton.”
New York Times Book Review
“A mischievous ménage-a-trois…playful [and] charmingly drawn.”
Observer (London)
“Dazzling…clever, funny and original.”
Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung
“This book is a literary sensation… Politics really is the novel of the twenty-first century.”
Le Monde
“A book you immediately want to give to all of your friends… irresistibly funny and true.”
La Repubblica
“A new and great talent.”
“Lushly ambiguous...A funny and surprisingly wise first novel.”
London Times
“There is nothing quite like Politics in contemporary English writing.”
“A charmingly raunchy first novel.”
Evening Standard
“A remarkably clever novel by a remarkably clever man.”
The Observer
“Funny and profound discussion of sex and sexual manners.”
The Guardian
“A lovely book, very funny, a sexual comedy about a love triangle.”
New York Observer
“An ambitious and promising first novel.”
St. Louis Post-Dispatch
“Adam Thirlwell has hit the writers jackpot…the writing goes beyond graphic.”
The Village Voice
Tracking the nervous Moshe and his cerebral girlfriend as they stumble into a cumbersome threesome, Thirlwell's debut drowns passion in the stammering minutiae of sexual politics. But in feats of delicious incongruity, he relates this awkward bacchanalia to the functionality of architecture, the sexual stamina of surrealists, and the comparative nobility of Soviet dissidents. Bad sex has never been such fun.
The New Yorker
In this début novel, sedulous dissection of a love affair involving a pair of young Londoners—who, with the addition of a female friend, become a threesome—serves as an occasion for playing with the old saw about the personal being political. Thirlwell, attempting to chart some sort of moral-aesthetic triangle bounded by Kurt Vonnegut, Martin Amis, and Milan Kundera, declares, “a threesome is the ultimate sexual unit. It is the socialist utopia of sex.” The author makes enjoyable sport of the contemporary taste for porno-chic transgression, but, in repeatedly halting the narrative to liken his characters’ callow problems, hesitancies, and dilemmas to episodes in the lives of Stalin, Mao, and Vaclav Havel, he sacrifices narrative engagement to the display of his own virtuosity.
Publishers Weekly
In this nervy, self-conscious debut novel, British writer Thirlwell airs the unspoken anxieties and confusions of two lovers, crafting a talky deconstruction of a relationship. Moshe is a character actor, "the sketchy one, the sardonic one, the oddball cool"; Nana is an architecture student, "tall, thin, pale, blonde, breasty." It is the off-stage narrator, however, who is the book's most notable presence, with his countless digressions, "simple" theories, lengthy explanations and bossy directives. Despite his repeated assertions that the book is not about sex ("sex isn't everything"; "sometimes I think that this book is an attack on sex"), Moshe and Nana are constantly experimenting ("oral sex, use of alternative personae, lesbianism, undinism"), though their experiments usually end in failure. This is true of their biggest experiment, a three-way affair involving Anjali, an Anglo-Indian actor friend of Moshe's. Reading Thirlwell's novel is similar to watching a film with the director in the room, guiding the viewer through every scene. While many of the resulting narrative flourishes are clever or endearing, their humor and intellectual cachet wear thin as the ratio of window dressing to substance tips heavily in favor of the former. Still, Thirlwell's brave attempt to debunk the primacy of sex (while elaborately describing his characters' hapless pursuit of it) is surprisingly convincing. (Oct. 1) Forecast: Thirlwell was chosen this year as one of Granta's best British novelists under 40 (born in 1978, he is the youngest yet). His deadpan blend of irony and earnestness should particularly appeal to readers of Dave Eggers and George Saunders. Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
That's sexual politics. One of Granta's 20 Best Novelists Under 40, Thirlwell introduces a m nage trois involving a father and daughter, with references to everything from Kundera and Mandelstam to fluffy pink handcuffs. Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
A ménage à trois in contemporary London. The youngest author ever to be named one of Granta's Best Young British Writers (the "20 Under 40" list), Thirwell (a Fellow of All Souls College, Oxford) is an aspiring master of the vapid postmodern nihilism that is still the reigning literary fashion among academics on both sides of the Atlantic. He introduces us to three young Londoners who come together in an elliptical and polymorphic boy-meets-girl tale that bears more in common with Milan Kundera than Henry Miller, although it is a good deal more pretentious than both combined. Moshe, a young Jewish actor, meets Nana, a spoiled young suburbanite, at a performance of Oscar Wilde's Vera; Moshe had a role in the play, while Nana was brought along by her father (who's on the board of the theater). Nana also meets Anjali, an Indian actress and friend of Moshe's, on the same evening. The rest is simple. Our omniscient narrator guides us through the development of the relations between the three friends ("The next event in the story is a blow job"), which are volatile, predictable, and nicely summed up in the chapter headings ("Romance," "Intrigue," "They fall in love," "They fall out of love," etc.), yet his abiding passions seem better expressed in a Tristram Shandy-ish series of digressions on subjects ranging from Bauhaus design to Mikhail Bulgakov and the sex lives of Adolph Hitler and Chairman Mao. These ramblings, it must be said, are more interesting than the depictions of Anjali fisting Nana or Moshe's fantasies of shooting heroin with the Queen Mother, though they seem to have no point than as diversions from the story itself-which has very little point of its own. Undergraduate ravingsof this sort should be inflicted only on hapless editors or professors of creative writing.

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HarperCollins Publishers
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P.S. Series
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5.31(w) x 8.00(h) x 0.68(d)

Read an Excerpt

A Novel

Chapter One

The Prologue


As moshe tried, gently, to tighten the pink fluffy handcuffs surrounding his girlfriend's wrists, he noticed a tiny frown.

I think you are going to like Moshe. His girlfriend's name was Nana. I think you will like her too.

'Pussy!' he said. 'What's wrong?'

He was crouching by her neck. She was lying on her stomach. Her arms were stretched, like a diver, above her head.

This is what was wrong. Nana's hands were too slender for the handcuffs. That was why she was frowning. There was a logistical problem. And Nana was a girl who cared about logistics. She took her sex seriously. But it was difficult to take sex seriously when, if she wriggled, her hands nearly slipped out. It was not, she explained, ideal. Wriggling was the charm of it.

As Nana glanced up, she saw Moshe's dejected face. 'Kitten!' she said. 'What's wrong?'

Unfussed, Nana explained that she would just have to act it out. She would have to stay still and mockstruggle. She was sweet to him. It was true, she said wistfully, talking into the duvet, that there had been another plan. She knew she was meant to be trapped, defenceless, while Moshe the tyrant gleefully mimed the loss of both sets of keys to the handcuffs, the real ones and the spares. But the fun was improvisation.

I like this couple. They are a do-it-yourself couple, and I like that.

Nana had imagined it. She had sketched out a synopsis. Nana would be tied up and then sodomised, ruthlessly. She wanted her powerful man to prove his potency. And -- because they were a couple who tried to be mutual -- Moshe had responded by suggesting a little trip to Sh!, Hoxton's sex boutique with a door policy.

A door policy? Yes yes. Men without women were banned.

Nervously, in Sh!, Moshe and Nana browsed for four minutes. Sh! smelled of incense. Moshe decided they should leave. Then he reconsidered. If they left, thought Moshe, then it might look like they were not comfortable with sex toys. It would look like they were afraid of sex.

I am not sure why Moshe was so worried by this. It was true. Moshe was afraid. He was afraid of sex toys. He was particularly afraid of a twelve-inch dildo, with an extra veined prong for the anus. But he did not want to look scared. He wanted to look indifferent.

They bought a petite and smooth leopardskin-print dildo, for him or her, that was now peeping from beneath the bed in its cardboard packet. They bought some rope. Gesturing towards bondage, they bought a black leather bra for Nana. It was three sizes too small. It was like a leather training bra. It flattened her breasts. Doing her best at the role of the submissive, Nana had the breasts of a thirteen-year-old. As for Moshe, his domain was control. So Moshe was the purchaser and practitioner of pink fluffy handcuffs -- or at least he would have been if the catches, the teeth, the locks, whatever, were not too loose for Nana's delicate frame.

They were too loose. She had to act it out.

Abandoning the handcuffs, Moshe scooped up the length of thin pink bondage rope. He wrapped it in a figure of eight round her quasi-handcuffed hands, then knotted the rope on to the bed frame. He arranged her wrists in a floppy fluorescent cross.

In a painful way Nana was comfortable. Which was perfect, she thought. It was just the right feeling. She wanted to make pain a pleasure.

Then Moshe spread her buttocks apart.

Nana's first reaction was embarrassment. This was quickly followed, however, by glee. Moshe was snuffling in her crack. It had an allure. Doggedly Moshe licked, he lapped at Nana's arsehole. He dabbed his tongue into the darker puckered pock.

Maybe I should be more specific here. Nana was a blonde. She was an all-over blonde. I do not want 'darker' to imply dark. No, Nana had a very pale arsehole. It was an albino arsehole.

Moshe began to enjoy himself, elongating her pink arsehole as he stretched her buttocks with his hands. It was -- Nana thought, self-conscious, being used -- a new sensation. This, she thought, was Rimming. It was not quite a turn-on but rimming was interesting. It gave her a new shiver.

And Nana said, 'Talk to me.' More precisely, in homage to pornography, she drawled, 'Tor tme.'


There are many attitudes to talk during sex. There are many varieties of talk during sex. Some individuals like to shout out commands. They will say, 'Suck my cock.' Commands can get quite paradoxical. For instance, sometimes a boy will say, 'Ask if you can suck me' -- which is a command for a request. Or a girl or a boy will say, 'Tell me to suck your cock' -- which is a command for a command. This almost turns the command into a request. Other people want their partner to do the talking. They want to hear guttural and lavish obscenities. This is especially exciting when a person suspects that his or her partner is repressed. On the other hand, there are people for whom talk is just reassuring. In fact, sometimes they do not even need talk to get the reassurance they want. Noise is quite enough. For these people, noise during sex is a version of talk. The other extreme, I suppose, involves some degree of reality shift or role play. A lot of people like to be someone else during sex. A lot of people like to imagine that someone else is someone else during sex.

And Nana, today, was a fantasist. She wanted a narrative. She wanted a role play.

Normally, however, Nana disdained all talk during sex. Even a whisper annoyed her. But just now, in a flat in the scuzzier part of Finsbury ...

A Novel
. Copyright © by Adam Thirlwell. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.

What People are Saying About This

Neel Mukherjee
“One of the funniest, most stylish and utterly original debuts in years… To the nebulous mix of motives that inspire human action, Thirlwell brings the clarity of an essayist such as Montaigne and the deadpan humour of Buster Keaton.”
A.S. Byatt
“Extremely accomplished...very sophisticated.”

Meet the Author

Adam Thirlwell was born in London in 1978. He is the author of two novels, Politics and The Escape, and a book on the international art of the novel, which won a Somerset Maugham Award. In 2003, he was chosen by Granta magazine as one of the Best Young British Novelists. His work is translated into 30 languages.

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Politics 2.2 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 6 reviews.
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The beginning is brilliant. Looks like a pamphlet,a satire of chic erotic novels,whit Moshe the Woody Allen of this story of a modern Menage a Trois. But soon all collapses in a minimalist chronicle, whit the Author constantly interposing himself and his patronizing comments between the reader and his story. 'You should (or shouldn't)think this or that' about his characters is a refrain that becomes frankly annoying, what's more he conveys his often obvious observations like he's talking to a not very bright child. Alain de Botton is far better in this philosophizing about a love story. He intersperses his not very interesting story of a menage a trois (the novel 'Jules and Jim',here cited, is far better)whit zany anecdotes of the life of celebrities and totalitarian dictators, who he incongrously compares whit some moment in the love and sex story of the menage a trois. Very often, the similitude is forced, fatuous and outright silly.Some notations of his are simply pointless. A Vaclav Havel's noble gesture in the sixties had underlying selfish motives. So what? Moreover,the Author seems to have a fondness for totalitarian dictators, observing how gentle Stalin was at the telephone (subtly menacing Bulgakov, falsely reassuring Bucharin), how pathetic was Hitler at sex (he apparently liked to be humiliated in the pauses between an invasion and a massacre) how generous was Mao in bestowing his painless (for him) sexually transmitted disease to the daughters of Chinese Revolution he deflowered. He arrives at the point of questioning the rightness of Eichmann's trial and execution, saying they should try Simon Wiesenthal instead. This is too much. In one of his rambling the Author says that 'reality can't be surreal, only surreal is surreal'. Surely the fact that this pretentious first work won the awed admiration of many learned critics is a proof that reality CAN in fact be surreal.