Wednesday, July 17, 2013

'The Teleportation Accident' by Ned Beauman

17 July 2013

I was drawn to Ned Beauman's novel 'The Teleportation Accident' by glowing reviews and by the intriguing premise of a theatre set designer in Berlin in the 1930s working to recreate the famous Teleportation Device ("An Extraordinary Mechanism for the Almost Instantaneous Transport of Persons from Place to Place") devised for a Paris theatre in 1679 by the great Renaissance stage designer Adriano Lavicini. The opening chapters made me think I had made a mistake - almost every character we were introduced to seemed unlikeable and the main protagonist, set designer Egon Loeser, is a very unsympathetic anti-hero - cynical, contemptuous and selfish. Also the thrilling notion of the Teleportation Device - where art meets science to create magic - seems quickly forgotten as the story becomes obsessed with parties, sex and drugs. I persevered with the novel (which I read as an unabridged audio book, narrated by Dudley Hinton) and began to appreciate the writing - Loseser's cynical railings against the harsh hand that life keeps dealing him are very funny and there are some beautifully witty metaphors with a Raymond Chandleresque swagger which made me laugh out loud. (He had "the sort of moustache that could beat you in an arm-wrestling contest". "The lenses of his glasses were so thick that, like an astronomer observing Neptune, he was probably seeing several minutes into the past".) Also the plot built towards some wonderful set-piece farcical scenes that could have come from Tom Sharpe (the monkey gland episode for example). And as the story moved to Paris and then to Los Angeles, I realised how clever and intricate the plotting was. Like Loeser I had missed or dismissed many references, characters and clues that were to return as elegant explanations for seemingly supernatural puzzles much later in the book. As 'The Teleportation Accident' grew and grew on me I came to appreciate that it is a rather brilliant novel - a very dark comedy spanning centuries with a complex web of themes. It's an entertainingly innovative novel to rank alongside 'A Visit from the Goon Squad' by Jennifer Egan (reviewed here in July 2011). Egon Loeser hates politics, physics and historical literature so it is his supreme misfortune to find himself the main character in a novel about politics, physics and historical literature (though his obsession with public transport does provide him with an interest in another of the book's recurring themes). He thinks himself an intellectual who is having a particularly unfair run of bad luck - but he comes across as a surprisingly naive loser, blundering through major events without appreciating their significance. The Teleportation Device itself has echoes of Christopher Nolan's 2006 film 'The Prestige' in which two rival magicians battle each other to achieve the ultimate illusion, drawing on the seemingly magical physics of Nikola Tesla (himself the subject of  Samantha Hunt's wonderful novel ‘The Invention of Everything Else’, reviewed here in September 2008). But above all 'The Teleportation Accident' is an incredibly funny, terribly clever and extremely enjoyable novel that I look forward to reading again and again - just make sure you pay attention to those opening chapters!



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