It’s hard to know how much distance the artist Simon Bill has put between himself and his nameless first-person narrator. For Bill’s wellbeing, one hopes there’s some. His eponymous artist, whose enormous abstract paintings are no longer selling, applies for a residency in a neurological institute. Hopelessly ill prepared, he has no real expectation of getting it, but when all the other candidates drop out, the gig becomes his. Even though the funding at the rather Ballardian clinic is increasingly haphazard, the position is a lifeline for the feckless artist, offering not only a bolthole but rich material for new work. Each patient provides an opportunity to explore a different neurological “deficit”, and the brain’s capacity to go wrong in so many extraordinary ways makes for a book that’s darkly entertaining but also didactic. The narrator has a strong teacherly bent, which sits a little oddly alongside his utter dissolution and wildly inappropriate behaviour. Falling in lust with a beautiful young patient, sneering at a “crusty” with Tourette syndrome, waking up in the clinic after a terrible bender, he nonetheless manages to deliver an illuminating survey of contemporary art and also, somehow, to grow.
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