All the Dirty Parts
by Daniel Handler
Bloomsbury

Daniel Handler is best known for Lemony Snicket’s Series of Unfortunate Events. His actual name may just attain naughty new emphasis thanks to All the Dirty Parts, a knowing attempt to recount teenage boys’ all-consuming interest in sex. Let’s have a warm hand for his opening: “Draw a number line, with zero is you never think about sex, and ten is it’s all you think about, and while you are drawing the line, I am thinking about sex.”

Handler’s unwieldy phrasing does capture the bewildered lasciviousness of his narrator, Cole, an Adrian Mole on Viagra whose “body rattles like a squirrel in a tin can” whenever a girl is anywhere near him. Or not near him, for that matter. We are meant to find Cole’s pri­apic attentiveness – think of a single antenna in a state of continuous quivering arousal – amusing and candidly empathetic. When he is not being criticised for his commitment to linear erotic non-commitment, Cole searches for future conquests or fantasises about them on the internet or in his imagination.

While I accept that teenage boys obsess about sex, my twofold objections to Handler’s readable bravado is how much Cole talks about it, above all with Alex his buddy in self-handling; and how curiously unfunny, monotonous and unsensual his monomania is to read.