Just when you think things couldn’t get any worse for our roguish protagonist, things continue their downward spiral ... Dunthorne is similarly cold-blooded in his treatment of Ray, a figure you simultaneously feel empathy for, yet wouldn’t mind seeing a little sense knocked into ... Dunthorne — also a published poet — has a humorous, well-observed precision to his writing ... It makes for a slim novel (just shy of 200 pages) that feels at once entirely true to its city, characters and moment, but also a broader, wry and angry comment on our times.
Dunthorne is a superbly economical writer – he crams an awful lot of plot into 173 pages – and one with a poet’s sensibility: a room is described as 'uncle-scented'; a paper plate of baba ganoush is 'smooshed' under a shoe. He is also properly funny. There are several snort-through-your-nose moments, including Ray’s encounter with a policewoman, when his every word exacerbates his predicament. But throughout, the novel’s comedy is always balanced by insight and poignancy.
There’s a terrifyingly knowing eloquence to the voice of Ray Morris, the narrator of Joe Dunthorne’s third novel ... The Adulterants, from its punning title onwards, is brilliantly knowing about its knowingness. It knows the only way we’ll tolerate a narrator as annoying as Ray is to punish him for the very virtues that make him a good narrator – nosiness and eloquence. Ray shares these virtues with the main character in Tobias Wolff’s now classic short story 'Bullet in the Brain', in which a know-it-all literary critic caught up in a bank robbery gets shot in the head for taking the piss out of the cliched way in which the bank robbers speak. In Wolff’s story, the punishment for knowingness is death; Dunthorne is more forgiving, but offers a more indirect route to redemption.