Scott McMullon sits down for a read of Twentysix, the most recent novel from Jonathan Kemp.
Twentysix is the latest book by Jonathan Kemp, winner of the 2011 Authors’ Club best first novel award in 2011 for London Triptych, and it adeptly explores the dizzying heights and dark depths of sexuality. Kemp takes no prisoners as he consistently delivers stunning imagery which assaults the senses with a sometimes brutal take on the reality of sex and its effects on the mind and, potentially, the soul.
The book does not follow a single cohesive storyline; instead, the 26 short stories follow a pattern that helps to draw the reader into Kemp’s dark world of sexual expression. As a medium, this helps to define the amorphous world of the author’s prose, and shows small excerpts of people as they hungrily seek out sexual connections with others.
Although the book’s primary subject is sexuality, it would be wrong to call this a collection of erotic fantasy stories. Twentysix sets itself apart by virtue of its own necessary bleakness. There is no fantasy to Kemp’s masterful prose as he portrays a realistic and sometimes heartbreaking outlook on the search for sexual fulfillment. Whether the characters are possessed of some deep intrinsic need to connect, or if they are just bored and looking for mindless fun, the sexual acts are portrayed close to reality and without much build up or fanfare. This helps to really hammer home the rawness of the work by taking away all the trappings of typical sexual fantasy, and consistently shocks us with a journey through an dark and electric world where the quest for new and profound sensations rules the narrative.
The stories themselves are brief, but each one stands out from the others like bright candles in the dark. They are each peppered with so much imagery and subtle wordplay that it provides a multi-layered experience rarely found in today’s modern fiction. Kemp’s use of symbolism borders on Shakespearean, which stimulates the mind as well as the body. That said, it is sometimes necessary to re-read a line a few times to fully grasp what the narrator is trying to say, but in a collection with so many layers this is a small point to make.
The reason that this book works so well is because we can all see ourselves reflected in his nameless characters. Kemp himself eloquently describes some sex acts as being similar to the that of a circuit, with a palpable electric current that moves between the characters and binds them together. This is reflected in each chapter which fizzes with a familiar intensity, and reaches down into the reader to awaken that same hunger for connection that drives the stories forward.
Sitting at just under 135 pages, Twentysix is a deceptively short read. However, as it edges towards its own shivering climax, this collection of short stories will leave you hot under the collar and always wishing for more.
You can follow Jonathan Kemp on Twitter @JonathanMKemp. Twentysix is available to buy on Amazon UK