Box Hill by Adam Mars-Jones review – a sparky yet sad vision of gay subculture

This slim portrayal of an abusive gay relationship in the 1970s is the biggest small book of the year

Adam Mars-Jones’s fiction is nothing if not intermittent. His early stories in Lantern Lecture (1981), including one where the Queen contracts rabies, won him a place on the first, influential Granta Best of Young British Novelists list in 1983. His stories focusing on Aids, collected in Monopolies of Loss (1992), put him on the second list in 1993. Clearly embarrassed at having been twice named one of Britain’s best young novelists without a novel, he wrote his brilliant debut The Waters of Thirst in a couple of months and released it the same year.

It was 15 years before his next work of fiction arrived. Pilcrow (2008) was the fat first part of a projected four-volume mega-novel about the life of a disabled gay man; the second volume, Cedilla, came in 2011. These are the great achievements of his fiction to date, though of the third volume there is no sign. (Being an Adam Mars-Jones completist is not a full-time occupation, though it is a rewarding one.) Now we have Box Hill, the slenderest of creatures, and the biggest small book of the year.

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