Review: The Teleportation Accident, Ned Beauman

Nice cover, no?

Things I do not like in books include:

  • Dudes wandering around trying to get laid
  • Jokey nods to historical situational irony
  • Unrepentant asshole protagonists

And yet here is the first paragraph of The Teleportation Accident.

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. 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 decolletage. 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. And it sometimes seemed as if the only way to prevent that dread pair from toppling him all the way over into derangement was to treat them not as prodigies but rather as texts to be studied. Hence the principle: accidents, like women, allude. These allusions are no less witty or astute for being unconscious; indeed, they are more so, which is one reason why it’s probably a mistake to construct them deliberately. The other reason is that everyone might conclude you’re a total prick.

I read that and it was like that thing that happens occasionally when you meet somebody and you get along brilliantly and are friends right away, and they laugh at all your jokes and tell good stories and you aren’t so much worried about running out of mutually engaging conversation topics as running out of time in which to talk about the zillions of available conversation topics. I read the opening paragraph of The Teleportation Accident and felt like, Oh, hello, friend!

It’s lucky that I had that reaction, because there were times when the insane and farcical (by design!) plot of The Teleportation Accident got a little wearing. I truly don’t like stories about dudes wandering around feeling sorry for themselves about not getting laid enough, even when (as in this case), there is the counterbalancing charming thing of the point-of-view character admitting insecurity and being honest about the effort and anxiety that arises from wanting people to think well of you.

Having just two seconds ago said that the point of a book can’t be its prose, I really enjoyed this book on the strength of its prose. That wasn’t the only thing I liked about it — I do like farce quite a bit, when it’s fun farce (your mileage may vary, obviously), and there were aspects of this book that made me laugh out loud, like the millionaire who has severe visual agnosia and can’t tell the difference between a picture of a thing (like an elephant) and the thing itself. Everything that happened was so gleefully, unapologetically insane.

Still, the primary pleasure of the book is, in fact, the writing. It’s all things like this:

The next morning they were both awoken by the determined slamming against the apartment’s front door of what sounded like a gravestone, jewellery safe, bust of Napoleon, or similar object of medium size and considerable mass, but what turned out — upon Scramsfield’s displacing himself from his bed by a sort of gastropodous undulatory motion, rising to his feet, and reluctantly unbolting the portal — to be nothing but the dainty gloved fist of Miss Margaret Norb.

and this:

Rackenham’s novel was by all accounts a very thinly disguised sketch of the Berlin experimental theatre scene circa 1931, and since nobody had been willing to answer Loeser’s oblique enquiries about the way he had been portrayed — even Brogmann had been too tactful to take the piss out of him — Loeser could only conclude that his fictional analogue was a golem of spite and libel, the sort of character assassination where they have to have a closed casket at the wake. He felt quite excited to have been the victim of the kind of affair you read about in interesting people’s biographies, and he was already looking forward to confronting Rackenham about it.

Further, to my excessive joy, there are four endings! And three of them are really good and one of them is…extremely weird. Y’all know how I love a good ending. It’s not a Clue situation, where the endings are mutually exclusive. Each one closes out the story in a particular way, so rather than getting to choose how your story ends, you get to choose, in a way, what kind of story you were reading all along. I love shit like that.

16 thoughts on “Review: The Teleportation Accident, Ned Beauman

  1. Dude, so we…have some things in common with things we like and then everything else we diverge completely (but this is OKAY). Because that first quoted paragraph, I super-hate. That style is not my cup of tea and usually just precedes eye-rolling and declarations of pretension from me.

    The cover IS totally gorgeous, though.

  2. I really like the sound of this one, but it might be too smart for me. I am willing to take that chance, especially since there are 4 (!) endings that I can choose from. I really love comical and farcical reading, and I want to read this. You don’t know how many times I just checked that last sentence to make sure I didn’t say fecal. See? This book IS for me!!

    • It’s very jokey! The first paragraph is pretty intense with the extended metaphors, but most of it isn’t quite so densely metaphoricalish. It is definitely comedy/farce. (See how I didn’t take the risk of writing “fecal” by mistake? Because I totally would do that too.)

  3. I picked up this book and started reading it because I read somewhere that it reminded somebody of The Gone-Away World. The only similarity I saw was that it was going to take me a while to get interested. In the meantime, I’ve picked up other books.

    • I haven’t tried it yet, no. I haven’t loved Connie Willis in the past — I liked-not-loved her two Blitz novels, and I didn’t like the medieval plague one — and I also am Official Enemies with Jerome K. Jerome. So those are the two reasons I’ve resisted To Say Nothing of the Dog.

  4. This sounds really fun Jenny! I think Ned has been honoured as Granta under 40 British writers yesterday. Wonder why 40? not 35? or 30? 😀

  5. Yes and yes. I wrote in my review that it’s really irritating to read a whole book about a guy following a woman around the world to try to get laid. There are some positives, but I was mostly frustrated with this book.

    • Yeah, I can understand why. I got frustrated at times too. I did like it that he learned at the end that it was better to be a good person to people who were nice to you. Hooray, life lesson! :p

  6. In semi-odd coincidences, I just wrote a review of this one scheduled to go up this afternoon and I quoted the first paragraph too because I had the EXACT same reaction – hello, old friend (and added where have you been all my life). Lovely review, glad someone else enjoyed it. It seems to be love it or hate it, assuming you can get through it.

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