The Beginning of the End
PublisherSalt Publishing
Date Published15 May 2015
Price£ 8.99

The Beginning of the End

by Ian Parkinson

Raymond Verleaux visits Thailand, where he marries a sex worker he has met on the internet. On his return to Belgium he moves into a seaside villa, while his wife becomes a porn star.


Raymond Verleaux’s story is told in the first person, and it becomes immediately clear that Raymond is very odd. He’s intelligent and educated, but seemingly lacking the ability to connect with the feelings of others. His experience of the world is curiously detached, with rare eruptions of emotion only indirectly related to what is happening around him.

When the book starts, Raymond is holding down a job, but has only the most superficial relationships, and with very few people. The closest he comes to interaction with others is via chat rooms on internet sex sites, which is how he comes to contact Joy, a Thai prostitute, and journeys out to marry her. While in Thailand, Raymond hears that his father has died, leaving him a seaside villa. The couple return to Raymond’s flat in Leuven, Belgium, and Joy embarks on a career as a porn star.

After a few brief sexual encounters with other couples, Raymond retreats alone to the villa, a property under threat from the sea, with a room full of boxes containing random objects from his father’s life. The rapid deterioration of the property mirrors his own dissolution: further retreat from human contact, abuse of prescription medications, and increasing dysfunctionality.

This is a disquieting read. Raymond’s thoughts reflect a uniformly flat rendition of his experience, giving the same low emotional intensity to the suicide of a neighbour, visits from a would-be electricity provider, or sexually explicit exchanges on the internet. It is perhaps the latter which is most shocking: the contrast between the detailed clinical depiction of body parts, and the complete lack of any human warmth or empathy in the couplings they make.

At the same time, the story is oddly compelling. The reader is dragged along, appalled by the lack of direction and emptiness of Raymond’s life but fascinated as to how this train will finally run into the buffers. And the portrait of a world simultaneously familiar but yet so alien, rendered in such stark outlines, provokes one to ponder on human interaction, what defines it and what life would be without it.

This is a tremendously impressive first novel, which strikes me as easier to conceive than to carry through without a misstep, which is something Ian Parkinson has surely achieved. The author maintains a focus on small detail which makes the picture utterly convincing.  It is a portrait of deviant behaviour which takes the reader on a ride into psychological depths which few crime novels achieve.

Reviewed 30 January 2016 by Chris Roberts