This was a great book. A breakneck mix of Pynchonesque rollicking party scenes, hardboiled dialogue, a milieu that recalls Isherwood, Orwellian down-and-outs, with the spectre of Lovecraft lurking around the proceedings from the 8th page onward, Ned Beauman’s second novel more than deserved to be longlisted for the Man Booker Prize, and has me eager to read his first, Boxer, Beetle.
Egon Loeser, whose name I alternated between pronouncing as “loser” and “laser” in my head depending on the scene, starts out as a theatrical art director in Weimar-era Germany. Belonging to a theatrical scene that calls itself “New Impressionist”, Loeser spends most of his time scoring coke and avoiding annoying people like Berthold Brecht than what he’s supposed to be doing, ie. developing a mechanical technique to teleport around actors on stage. The play is called Lavicini, and is also about a stage director, albeit one who actually appeared to have pulled off the teleportation machine, before a huge disaster, anyway.
When a girl named Adele Hitler (of the less famous Hitlers) walks back into Loeser’s life, he finds himself on an odyssey to try and sleep with her, eventually crossing the Atlantic in search of his goal. What follows is a hilarious and thoughtful journey through the first part of the Twentieth Century, viewed through the lens of its genre fiction.
As I said before, this book was fantastic. Hilarious dialogue and description is coupled with great tinges of horror and sci-fi, a Slaughterhouse-Five bounce through memory, a skewering of the “pickup artist” fad, and the increasing despondence of the main character. Loeser is kind of loathsome, but the people he encounters more than make up for the initial problems you might have with the character. My favourite guy is the American general who is afflicted with a similar disorder to the one King Mob is eventually subjected to in Grant Morrison’s The Invisibles: a complete disconnect between the idea of representation and reality, which manifests itself in talking to paintings and eating drawings of food.
I can’t recommend the book enough.