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The Blazing World is presented as a series of documents charting the life of Harriet (Harry) Burden, a lesser known New York artist. These documents, drawing heavily on a series of notebooks kept by Burden herself, have supposedly been collated by an art historian. The broad thrust of the piece is that Burden felt herself marginalised as a woman and therefore chose three men, each to present one of her installations as their own work. These three collections garnered favourable reviews. As so often happens in these assorted document type novels (Michael Arditti’s Unity comes to mind), the initial pretext soon wears thin. The documents, interviews, letters and diaries all go into a level of personal detail and cod-philosophy when, in real life, they would focus far more on facts and public events. As also tends to happen in such works, the narrative voice is not sufficiently different from source to source. It all feels like it was drafted by a single pen, working towards a single goal. Harry’s notebooks, in particular, seem to be filled with a linear narrative, despite being dispersed over multiple volumes kept simultaneously, and offer verbiose personal justification for everything. The writing is supposed to be over the top, pretentious. It’s a satire of modern art and one presumes the frequent digressions into philosophy (Kirkegaard seems to be a favourite) are presumably supposed to look hyperbolic when used to justify art installations that would otherwise not look out of place in a Blue Peter dollhouse. The characters are similarly supposed to be grotesque: a stupid young boy called Anton Tish who seems to have escaped from Warhol’s Factory; a gay black dandy who had adopted the name of Phineas Q Eldridge; and a genuine artist called Rune who is busy trying to forget his austere Norwegian heritage. Then we have Bruno, Harry’s partner and wannabe poet; we have dippy hippy chicks; bisexual art dealers; art journos; wealthy collectors… Despite their tendency to speak with the same voice, this motley assortment of characters feels real and diverse enough to sustain the piece. This, harnessed with some tragi-comic storylines and some great set pieces, breathe life into what keeps threatening to be (but never becomes) a snore-a-thon. This is not a life-changing novel and the plot is thin. The academic framing device comes to nothing – there are no conclusions and no thesis. But it is brimming with ideas and many of them are presented in a colourful, accessible fashion. Sometimes the ideas seem to trip over one another and the reader does have to wade through a lot of Tish to get to them, but overall it is worth it. ****0