The Nix, the hype

My Times review of the much-lauded debut novel from Nathan Hill:

Can a novel attract too much attention? That might sound like a foolish question in the age of digital distraction, when writers know they are competing with the cookbooks of the rich and famous and the latest celeb memoir. Who can blame publicists for shouting and tweeting as loudly as they can?

In the case of the debut from the 41-year-old American Nathan Hill, the cascade of superlatives tumbling across the Atlantic seems almost perverse. Any work of fiction would struggle to satisfy those expectations.

One of the elder statesmen of American letters, John Irving, joins in the chorus on the cover of The Nix, declaring: “Nathan Hill is a maestro, a maestro of being terrific.” In fact, the woolly second half of that sentence contains a clue to what is wrong with the book. Hill is simply trying too damned hard to be terrific. He is attempting to dazzle us with a panoramic, Franzen-esque chronicle of a Sixties-generation mother’s dysfunctional relationship with her son, a failed writer who whiles away his time as a jaded professor of English.

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