Beginning amidst the violent aftermath of a sex scandal, Death of a Ladies’ Man examines the devastating wake of politician Adrian Lowe’s most recent affair, which calls into question the legitimacy of his marriage, career and mid-life identity. While effortlessly slipping from character to character, Spens brilliantly expands the depths of Adrian’s hazy sex-soaked London through those he hurts: his wife Lily, a boozy and silent witness to the continual implosion of their marriage, and his children, Oxbridge siblings Rachel and Tom, who refuse to accept their parents’ sterile reality as their own. Although there exists an often harsh and splintered detachment between Adrian and those closest to him, his wife and children seem to orbit around his presence, or most often, his absence.
Adrian’s story ricochets gently between a university past as a narcissistic Cambridge lothario and his moral deterioration as an abusive and sexist middle-aged Tory. Adrian’s illusions, those of disposable and fleeting sexual encounters catering to his own waning vanity, prove not only to be an empty self-indulgence, but also the subsequent infection of his domestic decay. Adrian’s reoccurring and aggressively escalating perversity is quickly established (illuminating the fact that this ‘rise and fall’ is more of a perpetual descent) and steers readers through a narrative journey of sadistic impulse and harrowing consequence.
Upon its opening dialogue Spens’ narrative ignites—its momentum fuelled by lean, concise prose, which provides engaging intellectual considerations that never over-extend and beautifully define Adrian’s world. Above all Spens displays a brilliant emotional control in crafting the Lowes’ tribulations — they are never melodramatic, but genuine with an underlying tenderness. What ultimately emerges is a carefully considered thematic fusion of human fragility and a dangerous world of limitless influence and control. With a potent wit and contagious dark humour, Spens’ narrative illuminates emotional intersections of guilt and pride, delusion and reality, abuse and exploitation.
Upon completion of Death of a Ladies’ Man I found my sole disappointment with the text was that it had finished. Still desperate to continue with the Lowes I instantaneously began again, and thanks to Christiana Spens, I did so—happily and prose-drunk.
By Lindsay Parnell
Death of a Ladies’ Man is Christiana Spens’ third novel. The Wrecking Ball (Harper Perennial) was published in 2008 and The Socialite Manifesto (Beautiful Books) in 2009. All proceeds of Death of a Ladies’ Man benefit Unseen, a UK based charity passionately working to cease the exploitation of those victims to international human trafficking.