Sunday, 2 September 2012

The Teleportation Accident: A Review

In the next of my reviews of books nominated for the Man Booker Prize 2012, I turn to:


Ned Beauman’s debut novel, Boxer Beetle, received rave notices and launched this young novelist’s career (he was born in 1985).  Consequently, eagerness for his second novel was high – and unlike many novelists, his second novel doesn’t disappoint.   It is, in fact, a highly literate, extraordinarily funny novel, proving again that Ned Beauman is one of the British novelists to watch: he is the genuine article, a true writer.  The Teleportation Accident is just so well-written I think I actually turned green with envy at one point. 

Opening in Berlin in the 1930s, we immediately expect the rise of Nazism, but for Egon Loeser politics isn’t important – he just wants to get laid, preferably by Adele Hitler, the most beautiful woman he knows, and one who has slept with everybody else but him it seems.  He follows Adele across Europe and finally to America.  As we follow the adventures of this most consummate of losers, Beauman regales us with some truly great writing.  There are lines here of great wit, for example: “There was enough ice in her voice for a serviceable daiquiri.”  Each page seems to throw up something worth quoting, a line or an image carefully worked over so it sings brilliantly.

There is a major flaw in Beauman’s novel, however – and it is that he must resolve his numerous plots.  The final third suffers as all crime novels do, as a lot of science fiction novels do – somebody has to explain just what has been going on.  So there comes a few pages of exposition, and they drag the novel to a screeching halt.  Beauman does everything he can to keep it interesting, but even the greatest novelist in the world can’t make exposition interesting, especially when large chunks of it are coming all at once.  It’s not Beauman’s fault - as I said all such novels suffer so - but it’s a shame as it does slow the work down.  That this long exposition is actually just one of five endings makes it seem that Beauman, after writing the utterly brilliant first 250 pages, suddenly didn’t know quite how to resolve it all, and so wrote many endings. It is worth pointing out, though, that despite these flaws, his novel does remain eminently readable.

Of the novels to be long-listed for the Man Booker Prize in 2012, The Teleportation Accident is one of the more inventive.  It’s almost like it has wandered in from some other prize – this sort of thing normally doesn’t receive attention from the Booker crowd.  It’s good that it has – for it will bring Beauman many more readers (and he does deserve them), and it will show that not all science-fiction(ish) novels are unreadable, and that actually, some of the best of world writing goes on in genre fiction. 

The Teleportation Accident, then, is a mostly brilliant novel, with outstanding comic set-pieces, written with gusto and charm.  There was a fear that Beauman had given us his all in Boxer Beetle, this is proof he has much more to give.  It will be interesting to see what he produces next.

Will he win the Booker?

I think the sheer quality of Beauman’s prose will see him be short-listed – writing of this quality is rare.  I think the stalling in the final third of the novel as the resolutions to various plots are explained will cause it to lose out on the top spot.  He is fully deserving of being short-listed though.

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