The Teleportation Accident by Ned Beauman
|The Teleportation Accident by Ned Beauman|
|Genre: General Fiction|
|Reviewer: Robin Leggett|
|Summary: Extremely clever, innovative and often very funny, genre bending historical novel that incorporates aspects of science fiction. When it's good it's positively brilliant but can also be challenging to keep pace with.|
|Buy? Maybe||Borrow? Yes|
|Pages: 368||Date: July 2012|
|External links: Author's website|
It's hard to know where to start in reviewing Ned Beauman's Booker long-listed The Teleportation Accident. Reading it, you feel like the parent of an ADHD-suffering child. At times it is lovable, brilliant and entertaining, at others you just want to reach for the Ritalin and tell it to sit in a corner quietly while it composes itself. A clue to both the brilliance and frustration of Beauman is in the vast range of writers to whom he has been compared in both this and his first novel Boxer, Beetle. There are hints of people as wide ranging as David Mitchell, P G Wodehouse, Douglas Adams, Raymond Chandler even Angela Carter to name just a few. Beauman takes a huge range of styles and genres and pushes them and bends them often to glorious effect, but it can be a challenge keeping up with him at times.
The result is a historical novel where the characters are largely uninformed by the times in which they live, a romance driven by lust and unrequited feelings, a science fiction novel that is based in the past and a detective story without a detective. Beauman references many literary writers, from ancient Greeks, Hemmingway, Joyce, and Heidegger though to the sci-fi genre of HP Lovecraft and various playwrights, but the style is more Philip Marlowe than Christopher Marlowe.
Set mainly in the pre-World War 2 period, initially in Germany but moving to LA via Paris, Egon Loeser is a theatre set designer obsessed with the history of a teleportation device invented in the 1600s by an Italian set designer which failed spectacularly. Loeser is also self-pitying and sex-starved - the latter presumably affected by the former. Beauman's point is that there is repetition in events through time that is largely unaffected by the period in which it is set, and events can usually traced back to lust for a girl. There are constant references to Brecht throughout whose emphasis was on acknowledging that actors were part of a show rather than reality, and this is not a coincidence. Situations repeat and almost every seemingly irrelevant strand ultimately pays off later in the book. It's hugely clever but not always an easy read as the reader will doubtless feel hopelessly lost at various points in the story.
This year's Booker judges have declared that they are looking for books that give more in re-reading. At first, I was doubtful that even a second reading would make sense of the chaotic beginning, not helped by the fact that Loeser is so unlikable. However, after the initial confusion, I found myself warming not only to Loeser, but also to the book itself.
Beauman has a huge talent for metaphor and simile and hits with almost all of them. My personal favourite was 'there was enough ice in her voice for a serviceable daiquiri' - very Raymond Chandler. Also brilliant are some of his characters - notably Colonel Gorge who suffers from 'ontological agnosia' brought on by sniffing too much of the car polish that has made him rich, which means that he cannot differentiate between pictures and reality. That this references back to the Brechtian approach to theatre is just one example of the cleverness of Beauman's approach. But mostly, Gorge is just hilarious.
The Teleportation Accident is frequently very funny (although not quite as funny as Boxer Beetle in my view) and always very clever. It's just that sometimes it's hard not to feel that it is trying to be just too clever. Beauman is one of the most innovative young writers around and is one to follow. At times this book is gloriously entertaining. However by adopting so many styles and genres, there's a fair chance that at least one won't be to the reader's taste and so it proved for me. To me, this was the sci fi element - for others it might be a different aspect. The result is a frustratingly uneven reading experience but one with huge promise of great things to come.
Out thanks to the kind people at Sceptre for sending us this book.
If the stylish humour and more surreal aspects are what appeals to you in this book then I heartily recommend City of Bohane by Kevin Barry which is equally gloriously unhinged.
The Teleportation Accident by Ned Beauman is in the Man Booker Prize 2012.
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