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Sunday, August 12, 2012

"The Teleportation Accident" by Ned Beauman (Reviewed by Liviu Suciu)

INTRODUCTION:  When the 2012 Man Booker longlist was announced, three novels from it were talked about as being sffnal and as mentioned in my post on the topic, I decided I would take a look at them when I have a chance. With the wonderful cover above, the intriguing blurb below and an opening paragraph I will quote shortly and which will surely make the planned follow up post to my original "Some Memorable First Lines" from 2009, The Teleportation Accident by Ned Beauman has been the clear choice to start.


When you haven't had sex in a long time, it feels like the worst thing that is happening to anyone anywhere. If you're living in Germany in the 1930s, it probably isn't. But that's no consolation to Egon Loeser, whose carnal misfortunes will push him from the experimental theatres of Berlin to the absinthe bars of Paris to the physics laboratories of Los Angeles, trying all the while to solve two mysteries: whether it was really a deal with Satan that claimed the life of his hero, the great Renaissance stage designer Adriano Lavicini; and why a handsome, clever, charming, modest guy like him can't, just once in a while, get himself laid. 

From the author of the acclaimed Boxer, Beetle comes a historical novel that doesn't know what year it is; a noir novel that turns all the lights on; a romance novel that arrives drunk to dinner; a science fiction novel that can't remember what 'isotope' means; a stunningly inventive, exceptionally funny, dangerously unsteady and (largely) coherent novel about sex, violence, space, time, and how the best way to deal with history is to ignore it.


OVERVIEW/ANALYSIS: Warning: do not read The Teleportation Accident when eating or drinking as you risk choking from laughter!

"When you knock a bowl of sugar on to your host’s carpet, it is a parody of the avalanche that killed his mother and father, just as the duck’s beak that your new girlfriend’s lips form when she attempts a seductive pout is a quotation of the quacking noise your last girlfriend made during sex. 

And so it starts, while the follow-up lines that introduce our hero, Egon Loeser, a stage designer in Berlin 1931, all around "loser" but like the picaresque heroes of yore, gliding through all, are as hilarious and clever as the previous ones and they are quite tame compared with what follows. After a few introductory pages, his quest to bed Adele Hitler ("no relation"), his former fat teen pupil turned "femme fatale" in the Europe of the 1930's becomes the consuming obsession of his life and we follow him from Berlin, to Paris and finally to Los Angeles.

"When the telephone rings in the night because a stranger has given a wrong extension to the operator, it is a homage to the inadvertent substitution of telegrams that terminated your adulterous cousin’s marriage, just as the resonant alcove between the counterpoised struts of your new girlfriend’s clavicle is a rebuttal to the apparent beauty of your last girlfriend’s fleshier décolletage. Or this is how it seemed to Egon Loeser, anyway, because the two subjects most hostile to his sense of a man’s life as an essentially steady, comprehensible and Newtonian-mechanical undertaking were accidents and women."

The Teleportation Accident is divided into three main parts and to top it all, it finishes with a "four endings" final part, that brings the novel full circle in a definite sense, while adding a clear sfnality to it. The Berlin, Paris and the first Los Angeles chapters are just full riot and I have not laughed as hard reading a novel in a long time. 

Full of quotable lines and with characters that are one zanier than another, there is a clear hint of the darker undertones of the era but the plot generally follows the traditional picaresque structure, with Egon cluelessly facing various  dangers or embarrassments and getting out of them mostly by the workings of chance.

From his gay best friend Achleitner, to the English would be novelist Rupert Rackenham who later turns out to be both Egon's nemesis in the ways of love, but also his savior in the ways of the world and then to the American crook in Paris Scramfield, who recruits Egon to play the part of a Russian society doctor and to Egon's literary idol, American noir writer Stent Mutton or Los Angeles magnate, the cognitively impaired Colonel Gorge, the characters are just memorable and larger than life. 

And then there is the 17th century connection with genius set designer Lavicini (another obvious play on names), his patron de Gorge (no coincidence), or the sfnal allusions, Troodonians, Lovecraftian creatures, secret Army projects involving a "phasmatometer" and of course the various Teleportation  Devices, theater props or would be real ones...

Here is Achleitner, introducing Egon to Rupert, while later correcting his misunderstanding about Rupert's relationships with women:

 ‘I’d love to introduce the two of you,’ said Achleitner, nodding at the Englishman, ‘but I’m afraid on this napkin next to your telephone number I seem just to have written “London, blond, incomparable ***”.

‘As everyone knows, all those English public-school boys are Gillette blades. They cut both ways.

 In the third part, The Teleportation Accident becomes considerably darker and more serious, the picaresque starts morphing into true drama and danger, serial killers and spies appear and Egon starts developing a backbone. The transition from levity to the stark reality of the era is handled very well and while the laugh-out riot becomes real suspense, the book only gains from that.

Overall, The Teleportation Accident is an extraordinary novel that is witty, funny and inventive, but also dark and serious when it counts. A top 25 novel of mine and while I still would love seeing Tan Twan Eng winning the Booker as unlikely as that probably is, I would not mind if this one wins either!



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