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The Teleportation Accident, By Ned Beauman

In prewar Berlin or madcap California, this mash-up of genres and styles has a serious intent

When your unlucky protagonist, a man for whom history is less a nightmare from which he is trying to awake than the noisy party in the next room, is called Loeser, sardonic editorialising is going on. It is all too easy for us to wag our fingers at a man who thinks the Nazis aren't ever going to win an election, or do what they say they will, when we are sleep-walking through the rise of our own potential fascists.

Ned Beauman is a very funny writer, but also a very serious one. His second novel is a glorious rigmarole of satire, insanity, genre tropes and aching romantic pain, but never doubt that it is an essentially serious book. Set-designer Loeser is obsessed with Adela Hitler (no relation), a fun-loving young woman who has slept with almost everyone in his Weimar-era Berlin circle except him and Brecht, and follows her to Paris and California. Along the way, he gets involved with confidence tricksters, spies, mad scientists, serial killers, the horror fiction of HP Lovecraft and a plot to destroy the Los Angeles streetcar system.

He is already obsessed with the mysterious death of Lavicini, a 17th-century predecessor, whose finest piece of gadgetry demolished part of his theatre when it went wrong. Rumours abound of what really happened, from the devil, or tentacled creatures from beyond, to Louis XIV disposing of people whose innovations might threaten his absolute rule. One of the joys of this book is that every loose end gets tied up, even if Loeser only thinks he knows everything by the end.

Beauman has set himself to school with an intriguing variety of masters – there is a lot of Pynchon here, from the feckless crowd of Weimar wasters that Loeser is originally hanging out with, many of whom end up refugees in California with him, to the transportation systems and secret knowledge. As a farceur, Beauman owes much to PG Wodehouse. Loeser finds himself paying court to an eccentric millionaire who is partly the ultimate Wodehouse uncle, partly the sort of monster we meet in Waugh. Pynchon is also present, as much as Hammett or Chandler, in the thrillerish bits – this is an expressionist and surrealist novel as much as a piece of noir.

Loeser is not just an idiot protagonist who wanders between disasters; he grows a heart. He comes to acknowledge that Adela exists in her own right, and that he is a selfish twit; similarly, he realises that history is going on around him. In the end he, like his story, becomes serious – only to have Beauman turn our reactions on their head with a final outrageous plot twist which indicates that The Teleportation Accident is, as well as everything else, the SF novel that its title implies.

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