Do you ever read a book that makes you feel stupid? And, because of how stupid that book makes you feel (and I don’t like to feel that way), some cataclysmic barrier is laid down between you and the author when you should otherwise be enjoying yourself? Well, after having a surprisingly good run of comfortable reads, that is how Ned Beauman’s perplexing novel The Teleportation Accident made me feel.
Although I’m bracing myself for people who strongly disagree by saying this – the wide-range and careful balance of works habitually nominated for the Man Booker Prize every year never ceases to amaze me. Having several of the nominees for the 2012 prize either already read or TBR on my bookshelf, none of them could really prepare me for a novel that excited me at the first and baffled me at the last.
The first of many set-pieces we begin with is pre-WWII Berlin (always intriguing), where we are introduced to set-designer Egon Loeser (or Egon ‘Loser’ as I preferred to call him). Egon is a selfish, egotistical, flippant, sex-obsessed waster, completely separated from and unconcerned by what is happening in 1930s Europe and eventually crossing the globe to America, not, as you may assume, to escape Nazi persecution but to chase a girl who, let’s face it, is never going to have sex with him in a month of Sundays. This farcical tale takes us from a beleaguered Berlin, to fashionable Paris and finally to a bleached LA, where Beauman’s plot line (or lack thereof) takes off and we are introduced to some fabulously eccentric and memorable characters (e.g. rich tycoon Wilbur Gorge who suffers from agnosia; distorting his sense of reality and resulting in several slapstick moments). However, aside from isolated scenes and amusements that appear to be clear satirical takes on various literary genres, I found this deliberately disjointed tale left me feeling a little high and dry; stranded on a huge floating thesaurus along with Adriano Lavicini; the 17th century Venetian set-designer whose teleportation device seems to be the main tenuous thread, along with Loeser’s pursuit of sexual intercourse, holding this story together.
1. I have to like my main character, even in some minute way. Egon Loeser has been deliberately constructed to be a bit of a loser and I therefore couldn’t muster an ounce of sympathy for him, finding the (again deliberate, and really quite brave) disregard for the plight of friends back home to be, at first intriguing but then, once repeated, a little insulting.
2. I like a good plot. Unless the writing is of a McEwan/Atwood/Murakami-style brilliance, I cannot get my head around all the toing and froing. Beauman is undoubtedly talented but I found that after a few chapters my head really did start to hurt, which in turn made me feel stupid, which I am not. (Also – I am sure this was deliberate again but, did partygoers really take ketamine in 1930s Berlin. Am I missing some wry joke there?)
I think this novel, as many of my book club‘s choices have been in the past, is one whose madcap, baffling storyline and really very accomplished prose you simply have to go along with. If, like me, you start trying to analyse and understand any of it you will fail miserably and come away feeling like a fool. I feel very confused and bewildered and have no idea what to think. Most people love this book (clearly Man-Booker worthy) and do we always have to like our main characters? I do. But then again I’m a fusspot.
If you do decide to pick this up one day my main advice would be: RELAX. Go with the flow, man. Because I clearly can’t.
Venice canals by Erick Gonzalez via Flickr