Had I been asked a month ago whether a book dominated (ha) by sadomasochistic sex scenes, whose convoluted plot involves ritual murder, the lofty realms of academic philosophy and a smattering of anthropology, London in-jokes and Neanderthals could be a runaway success I would have laugh out loud.
Given the runaway success of Fifty Shades of Grey though, I would no longer be sure of my instant dismissal. In fact, I would argue that whoever could leap aboard that particular bandwagon would be in with a good chance of making their fortune.
It is just possible, just, that Ann Abrams might make it. Given that Fifty Shades was in itself a sexed up piece of Twilight fan-fiction, I am sure that there will be a plethora of authors and publishers eager to follow E. L. James success. No doubt they'll all have similar inoffensive covers, shades of blue and grey fooling no-one on the bus.
Mobius however deserves better than being seen as some publishers wet-dream of a quick trip to the fortunes of Harry Potter. Certainly Abrams herself is more than J K Rowling, not least with her in-jokes and ruminations on the ideas of Hegel, Marx and half a dozen philosophers. You get the impression that Abrams has actually read these, rather than flicking through a cartoon-guide to Rousseau. There's also humour. Dark humour, but bits that'll make you smile.
Abrams clearly lives in London. Or at least she knows it well enough to understand the frustrations of most Londoners towards the influx of middle-class attic dwelling hipsters that is spreading outwards from Shoreditch and trying to setup abode in Dalston. Abrams' turns our annoyance at their superficiality into satisfaction with the occasional (well frequent) act of violence. The satisfaction is swiftly followed by horror of course, but knowing that those we dislike meet a grisly end is possibly were some of the success of this novel may lie.
That's not to say that Mobius is without problems. The writing is good, but it needs to be tighter (you can't twist something into a mobius strip for instance). The plot twists and turns and their are almost too many characters. At one point the writer muses, jokingly that in real life people you meet can have frustratingly similar names. In a post-modern "breaking of the fourth wall" the author gives some of her characters similar names. But the reason authors don't emulate real life is it makes book hard to follow and I felt drowned occasionally in personalities.
Our heroine, Katherine, has fallen in with a bad lot. Well bad in the sense that they are the sort of people who make vast amounts of money in the city of London, or selling real-estate in Dalston to the types who make money in the city of London. Her lover strains to prove himself to her through a ritual display of nice wines, good meals, expensive cars and sound systems. All lovingly if contemptuously described by the author. Katherine rejects these trinkets. She's made of sterner stuff, though her affection for her partner means that his disappearance encourages her to go on a search that takes her from London, to Italy and back.
The disappearance appears to be caused by the same shady group who organised a rather exotic sex-party. Katherine meets Nick at the orgy, and together they witness an unusual, and unpleasant scene that makes them question what's happening, in part because they both suffer from memory loss.
I'm not going to dwell on the plot. Frankly if you've found your interest pricked so far, you'll probably get this for your kindle anyway. What I want to finish on is the sex. Or is it porn? There is a lot of sex in this book. Quite a lot of it graphically described. Rarely have I read a novel that mentions the perineum more than once. There are quite a lot of orgasms and bodily fluids, ejaculation and scratching. That some of this crosses over into violence will not surprise those who've read some of the less well written books out there, particularly in an era when everyone seems to think vampires are essential to literature. Many readers will find this distasteful, and I wonder if others will be tempted to dismiss it as irony. Certainly it brought to mind a couple of stories I'd read by Poppy Z Brite. On the other hand, Abrams has some of the style of Iain Banks and with a good editor will no-doubt improve.
I'm not a prude, nor am I particularly squeamish. But the sexualised violence here, countered with an occasional critique of the society that produces it, felt too disjointed from the main thrust of the novel. In some ways, this is a classic coming of age novel. In others it is a horror story. On the one hand you could dismiss this as a bit of dodgy porn, but on the other hand Ann Abrams has written a first novel that is genuinely unusual.
Given the right marketing, and a good editor, Ann Abrams may break out of the grey. Certainly if she’s pushed forward as the thinking person’s alternative to Fifty Shades of Grey she may make it. What the readers will actually think when they read it is an entirely different question.