Man, I had a pickle of a time reading Edward Docx's second novel, Pravda. Fifty pages in, I was fit to throw his twisted knot of metaphors at the wall. Two hundred pages in and I'd calmed down considerably, even if Docx's use of literary whatzits was still as thick as London fog. Fortunately for my wall, Pravda is much like a bad beauty school perm: It starts out overly taut and ends with a faintly pungent beauty.
Mostly set in St. Petersburg, Pravda chronicles the lives of thirty-something twins Isabella and Gabriel Glover after their Russian mother dies of a stroke. The British-raised twins go through the motions of grief and depression, all the while trying to come to terms with their relationship with their estranged, dandified father. And lurking beneath the conceit of the twins' mourning is a subplot about Arkady, a talented Russian pianist who discovers that the Glovers' mother was also his own. Arkady's journey to the UK to claim his birthright and inheritance eventually changes much about the twins' lives.
Riddled with grandiose turns of phrase, Docx's semi-autobiographical novel is a hard pill to swallow. Isabella's sorrow surges, "Oh Christ. Christ. Christ. She felt the grief kraken rising from the deep, sending ripples through the underground lake of her tears." Overwrought and overflowing, Docx manages to whip up zinger after cringing zinger, but the novel is salvaged by his fastidious descriptions of St. Petersburg, the interior lives of Russians, and his cast of unlikable but believable characters. The sum of its parts becomes a descriptive and ultimately well-composed novel.
Pravda (or Self Help, as it is known in the UK) was long-listed for the 2007 Man Booker Prize, and I suppose it's understandable—it's certainly not the sort of book I like reading, but it's enjoyable enough once you get past its wordy temper tantrums. But yeesh, some are hard to stomach: "[Gabriel's] heart was pestling itself mad against the mortar of the present, suffering now from some inarticulate dread—a terrifying feeling that came at him as he reached the staircase in the corner of the quadrangle, grinding his very quick to powder." Docx would be well served to take a respite from his metaphor mongering—take a load off, dude. Chillax.