Josephine Hart’s Damage, which has been the most heavily hyped debut in recent memory, turns out to be the ordinary story of a buttoned-up man who gets undone by something wild. The book is narrated by a prim, nameless British politician engaged in a metaphysically charged affair with his son’s fiancée, Anna Barton. The narrator’s wife, Ingrid, floats at the periphery of this story, as does his son, Martyn, with whom he has an outsize Oedipal rivalry. Damage is a competent tale of sex and death, the sort of thing Iris Murdoch could have written in a weekend. The narrator and Anna have just met when suddenly they’re behaving as if they had known each other in a previous life, and we’re told, ”I bit and tore and held her, round and round, as we rose and fell, rose and fell into the wilderness.” Here, as elsewhere, Hart cuts to the chase when we’re still not sure why everybody’s running. B-

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