You wait ages for one ingenious work of fiction joining the dots between Nazism, sci-fi, espionage, sex, politics, art and quantum physics to come along, and then two arrive all at once. Hot on the heels of Jake Arnott's tour de force The House of Rumour comes Ned Beauman's The Teleportation Accident, a funny, flashy, over-excited puppy of a novel.
Like Arnott (and indeed David Mitchell and Jennifer Egan), Beauman employs an array of plots, locations and literary genres: he parodies everything from Brecht, Ulysses and the "lost generation" in Paris to Dashiell Hammett, H P Lovecraft and Hollywood's post-Expressionist horror movies of the 1930s. While Arnott's narrative whirl doubled as a quest for meaning in a chaotic universe, Beauman's own restless storytelling blurs lines between art and artifice, design and chance, sex and politics.
At the centre is an anti-hero called Egon Loeser, one vowel away from being a loser by name as well as nature. An avant-gardish set designer in the Weimar Republic, he is so desperate to have sex with the beauteous Adele Hitler (no relation) that he pursues her half way across the globe, to Los Angeles via Paris. His infatuation is such, moreover, that he hardly notices when her namesake begins his war of genocide and world domination.
Distracting the passive, self-centred Loeser are attempts to design a fully operational teleportation device in 17th-century Venice and 20th-century California; a Communist spy ring; Los Angeles's nascent public transport system; and a serial killer eating hearts at Caltech.
This melange works because Beauman is such a meticulous narrative arranger. Chekov's axiom about making use of loaded rifles has been refined to a mind-boggling degree. If a Beauman character saunters into a Parisian café on page 83 claiming to have written a Fitzgeraldish novel (The Sorrowful Noble Ones), you can be sure he will raise his elegant head again on page 345. Add in an epigrammatic prose style that revels in the irrational and illogical, and one senses the diverse influences of P G Wodehouse and Douglas Adams: the final section feels like a missing chapter from The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy.
Occasionally, the frenetic tone and pace proved trying, and even a little tiring: I occasionally pictured Beauman as a talented but over-functioning young magician unable to stop pulling bunnies out of hats. But when his wit and his intelligence work in harmony, he sings memorable comic songs. Loeser's appearance before the Congressional Committee of Un-American Activities becomes a funny Borgesian game: he waves his tie above his head "like a gaucho's bolas" simply to see if it will be mentioned in the transcript.
Like its predecessor Boxer, Beetle, The Teleportation Accident is popping with ideas, fizzing with vitality, and great fun to quaff. Just be careful not to get too much up your nose.
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