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.

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