Having been shortlisted for the Guardian First Book Award with his debut novel, 2010’s Boxer, Beetle, Ned Beauman’s followup continues his success with The Teleportation Accident making the Man Booker Prize longlist, and well deserved that recognition was. Aptly titled, leaping through geographic and temporal location, it tells the tale of theatrical set designer Egon Loeser, whose circumstances befit his name, always on the outside, looking in as others enjoy so easily what he strives for, his only true talent making a bad situation indescribably and excruciatingly worse.
We first meet Loeser in Berlin during the rise of Nazism, though that background is apropos to his single minded pursuit of a girl he once tutored, now returned in full bloom into Loeser’s social circle of actors, composers, writers and producers, and it is this elusive muse that he eventually pursues across the globe, stumbling unwittingly away from the upheaval of his homeland, oblivious to suffering of the former associates who fear for their lives.
Loeser’s caustic narration is unceasingly hilarious, mixing explicit crudity with highbrow levity, whether discussing the surrender of dramatic values to special effects, a debate that “will continue until Hollywood falls into the San Andreas fault,” or cataloguing his persistent romantic failures, dismissing a former girlfriend as his intellectual inferior yet furious that she has moved from him onto an actor who was earlier injured rehearsing the stage effect Loeser has been working to perfect – Lavicini’s teleportation.
The characters he encounters are conmen and cads, mad scientists, blackmailers, booksellers, writers and mentally degraded millionaires, each as individually eccentric as only the rich and artisans can afford to be. He despises those he is forced to engage with in increasingly frustrated and ridiculous social situations. If only Loeser had paid more attention from the start, how much pain he could have saved himself, learning from the words a girl called Hitler saw written on the wall at a party: “Love is the foolish overestimation of the minimal difference between one sexual object and another.”
Beauman layers the book with repeating images – a house caught in a traffic jam, the architecture of a building reflected an ocean away, the story of the fisherman Urashima Tarō, and appearances of lizards hold more significance than is first apparent – but despite the title, the locations we are transported to are deliberate: Berlin, Paris, Los Angeles, each faithfully described as though with his words we inhale the same breath that Egon has inhaled in those disparate cities. Each has grown in different ways but has been shaped by the universal forces of politics and landowners giving rise to common themes despite their geographic diversity.
Loeser’s life in the thirsty state of perpetual sunshine and dust will lead him to others who are investigating teleportation as a genuine technology rather than a stage effect, though based on the somewhat tenuous theory of making an object forget its old position and persuading it of its new position, but also to revelations about the events that surrounded the original teleportation accident, a disaster that destroyed a theatre, resulted in the death of performers and audience, and ended the career of the original designer.
As the threads are joined together, the bizarre set of coincidences and evasions that have plagued Loeser, Beauman excels in the intricacy of his plotting. All the phenomena have rational, if absolutely ridiculous, explanations, despite the suggestions of science fictional elements and Lovecraftian supernaturalism.
If there is a problem, it is that in Loeser’s self-obsession he regards all around himself as inferior and beneath his notice, so when transient characters reappear in a different context, it can be difficult to recall them without referring to earlier chapters. But isn’t that the problem with teleportation, the dislocation, the sudden loss of personal context, lurching through misadventure?
The Teleportation Accident is now available from Sceptre