Not a lot of books deserve the verdict delightfully disturbing – but Eliza Clark’s Boy Parts sure does. Let’s back it up a bit.
Irina is a photographer, and not just your household corporate TV dinner photographer, as she likes to emphasize, but rather a creator of fetish art. She scouts men which she then photographs in, uh, explicit poses, among them Eddie from Tesco. There’s also Flo, who’s Irina’s best friend (in the widest definition of that term at least) and a mysterious guy paying a whole bunch of money for Irina’s art. Life could be good for Irina, right?
Except it’s not, no matter how much she’d tell you it was.
I loved this book primarily for the absolutely visceral reactions it invoked in me. I hated Irina like I have hated very few other protagonists before. She’s despicable, she’s cruel, she’s toxic. Irina is a bit of a pretentious eggplant and, from an outsider perspective, she gets away with it scot-free. On the inside, however, she’s tortured. And not in the “pretty girl feels very sad”-kind of way, but in the most literal definition of the word.
Boy Parts is one of those genre-transcending novels I love so much. The blurb reads like your run-of-the-mill contemporary fiction novel, but Boy Parts is far from average. It’s gruesome (and it surely could have benefitted from a content note or two), it’s an acid trip on paper, it’s coke on cellulose. The writing is so incredibily immersive you don’t even realize things go south, until they really have gone south.
Clark’s character design is masterful – despite my hate for Irina, I went along with her arguably unjustified disdain for other people, I started to be annoyed by the same people she’s annoyed by, even though Irina was just being certified cruel. Irina is a bit of all our dark sides, and then some more. Those feelings of superiorty we secretly harbor and regret the very next minute? That’s Irina. Those times we snap at people that just had our best in mind? That’s Irina. Those days when we are unapologetically hedonistic and self-destructive? That’s Irina.
If you’re squeamish, do check content notes first, though – this book is rough. Its roughness is precisely what makes it so brilliant and so unlike anything I’ve ever read, but it is bitter and acidic and definitely not an easy beach read. I’ll be sure to come back to it in the future.