Why does Robert Reith, a reclusive classics don, wish to destroy a popular government minister, Sir Philip Nocton? And who is the elusive Martin who appears to link them?
Martin takes us back to the secret games of their childhood friendship to discover why Reith employs the Dark Web to drive Nocton to desperation. It is the story of a love that has lasted a lifetime and of a desire for revenge that poisons three lives.
Reith narrates his own history in a voice which is brilliantly clever, deeply sardonic, and often very funny. Ian Thomson’s disquieting first novel radically challenges how we think about love, sexuality, friendship and innocence.
Reviews for Martin
Efficient as a flick knife
I read it in two great gulps and with growing admiration for your skill at creating a protagonist who is academically brilliant but emotionally stupid, who pleads for pity but is incapable of demonstrating it himself. As a memoir of being a gay teenager in the 1960s – full of secret excitements and fumbling disappointments – it is brutally perceptive and painfully funny. As a revenge fantasy it is as efficient as a flick knife. And as a narrative that grabs the reader and refuses to let go, it is remorseless. Huge congratulations to you.
Read this if you dare...
As the Americans say at the outset of any TV show with adult themes ‘Viewer Discretion is Advised’. So it is with this novel. The author pounds the notion that ‘he who pays the piper calls the tune’ anchoring retribution in a desire denied. Love is confused with lust and an obsessive plan hatched to get even. There is both gay and straight sex depicted in the book but it is not sexy. Whatever turns you on, this will not turn you on. The backdrop of a Colin Dexter Oxford provides a platform for the nasty snob Reith to learn his dark arts.
This is a disturbing, albeit skilfully crafted story. The author appears aware of this and unusually provides his own commentary as an ‘Afterword’ . Read this book if you dare!
Those familiar with Thomson’s earlier works will be pleased that he has produced a full-length novel that is possessed of the same wit, erudition and teasing relationship with his readers. Martin is a disconcerting work because its protagonist is malevolent, petty, and bent on revenge. Tracing the life of Robert Reith from childhood, it’s more the antithesis of a bildungsroman, as the character degenerates rather than grows, though that does not make him less fascinating.
There is something of Humbert Humbert about Reith: he is devious, calculating, amoral, and, in many ways, loathsome; yet we cannot completely despise him. It is Thomson’s narrative skill, and nudge-nudge-wink-wink relationship with the reader, that keeps us engaged as we watch the slow-motion train-wreck of Reith’s life, which artfully – and ironically – arouses our sympathy.
The scenes of school and university life are closely, and affectionately, observed with all their frustrations, iniquities and pettiness. Reith’s professional success and wealth enables him to perpetrate his crimes (nay, justice, he would say) (well he would, wouldn’t he?) and remain above suspicion.
Martin is engaging on many levels, and provides much meat for discussion and thought, as well as providing wicked amusement such as found in Evelyn Waugh’s earlier works.
The characters are well drawn, and wholly credible, with convincing dialogue and behaviour. The plotting is tight, and satisfying; and the moral knots provide hours of entertainment.
An absorbing read from the very beginning
Robert is the sort of self absorbed narcissistic character you should loathe but oh how we love him! This book is so beautifully descriptive that you can imagine yourself right there in this superbly well crafted plot. All is revealed in the last few pages and I was eager to reach it but when I got there oh how I wanted more. If revenge is a dish best served cold Robert served his extremely chilled!
A delightful and brutally honest tale of revenge!
Congratulations on a wonderful novel!
I thoroughly enjoyed the story and the beautifully articulated setting, from the working class upbringing to the Oxbridge backdrop. The novel spends time providing a deep and meaningful insight into the main character, and it is this rare autobiographical honesty which captures the reader’s heart and mind. As a result, although one might not necessarily abide by the protagonist’s moral code, one can nevertheless understand his motivations… and, with a sprinkle of guilty pleasure, revel in his twisted genius and mischief!
I admired the author’s masterfully balanced approach to capturing the painful yearning for love and the loss of innocence, whilst avoiding the cliches of excessive nostalgia. The hormonal and passionate antihero, fully cognisant and accepting of his own flaws, elicits in the reader a mixture of pity and disgust, and yet one cannot but wish, in some twisted sense, to see him succeed. Where this novel succeeds is in the honesty of the protagonist which weds the reader to the protagonist, in physical health and emotional sickness.
Response from Ian Thomson, Author
I was delighted to receive this review as it reflects perfectly how I hoped Robert Reith would be received. ‘A mixture of pity and disgust’ is bang on the money, though Reith would have scorned the pity, I think. I am glad this reviewer could revel in his ‘twisted genius and mischief’. I really did mean him to both charm and appal.
Beautiful writing bringing the story alive.
Thomson is a prolific wordsmith with an art for creating beautiful crafted visions of his characters and surroundings that make the whole book come alive. The biggest challenge in this book is the struggle to warm to the main character who seemingly becomes more sadistic and cold over time but lacks the endearing flipside that accompanies some of literature’s greatest anti-heroes. And there’s a fair bit of sex in it too.
Laugh yourself silly or be sick. I don't care.
Ian Thomson has written a complex, funny, brave, disturbing, warm novel. That’s the truth of the matter. Few stories have the ability to make you laugh out loud; stop you in your tracks as you contemplate the mysteries of the human heart and yet also leave you feeling a little chilled. This one actually does do all of those things. I really like it.
When I think of Robert Reith, Philip Nocton and Martin Quillan, I see them. I see them in a world that exists as clearly as the one I am writing this review from: Quex Quay, the school, the pavilion… The novel has the ability to hold you in these places with the characters, even when you are not reading it; even once you have read the last page.
At one point Robert Reith tells us, “laugh yourself silly or be sick. I don’t care”. Oh Robert, that’s why we can’t entirely condemn you, despite what we come to know. At the end of his story, and after a life of play acting and manipulation, Robert seems to have nothing but the truth left to offer. Truth that is ugly and beautiful, and tender and despicable. Thank goodness he decides to write it down.
A great read. Now I want to see it, over two nights as a TV adaptation. Surely that’s not too much to ask?
A thoroughly enjoyable, intriguing read from Ian Thomson. The background of the narrator is convincingly built up from the start, and we watch in fascination his self-absorbed snobbery and vanity grow as the story unfolds. By the time Reith reaches Cambridge I found myself unable to put my kindle down. The plot is beautifully crafted, and Mr Thomson’s prose is elegant and witty. At times I laughed out loud, and in spite of the awful nature of Reith, couldn’t help but be carried along by his fiendish plans and even feel some sympathy for him! Convincing, gripping writing. I really enjoyed the whole ‘guarding the bonfire’ idea, having done the same as a child. And smiled at the literary references in the names of the shops.
Thank you, Mr Thomson. Great stuff.
Pulled into Robert's world from the first page.
I enjoyed this book very much. The author pulls you in from the first page, giving a tantalising amount of information about the story to come. Robert’s voice rings true as he gradually unfolds the story of his life and the revenge he seeks to wreak. And his honesty is as stunning as his cruelty. Well paced, funny and tragic by turns this really is an excellent read.
An excellent debut! Had me gripped from the first few pages.
Absolutely splendid. The novel is described as disquieting and I think this is apt. It is sometimes uncomfortable and mostly intense, periodically lightened by some engaging humour. I was constantly torn between feelings for Robert of empathy, pity, hate, and disgust. I am still at a lost to know how I truly feel, perhaps not unlike the principal character.
Whilst reading, the recounting of Robert’s youth began to feel too drawn out and the denouement slightly abrupt. However, on reflection the balance between the past and present is actually well-managed and amplifies the significance of a lifetime of waiting/wasting.