WORDS | Jack Cameron Stanton
I read the Teleportation Accident in light of the recent publication of Beauman’s third novel, Glow, which tells the story of a new drug spreading throughout underground London. Before I begin, I want to frame my discussion by clarifying how much I enjoyed reading Ned Beauman’s second novel, the Teleportation Accident. Published in 2012, it deserved to be longlisted for the Man Booker Prize, and, more fortunately, endowed with the Encore Award for best second novel.
In the Teleportation Accident, Loeser, a stage designer in 1930s Weimar Germany, chases the phantoms of the great and elusive Lavinci, the father of the rumoured teleportation machine from the late 17th Century. As the legend goes, Lavinci’s machine was faulty, causing a packed theatre to collapse onto itself, destroying Lavinci’s reputation and machine. As the story progress, Loeser unravels the truth, encountering mythologies and lies that bend his mind even further toward the clutches of obsession. The book accelerates away from its mysterious beginning and whirlwinds out of control, as Loeser deciphers the secret of Lavinci’s teleportation machine.
Even though the novel spans a relatively brief 350 pages, Beauman frames the novel in three different countries without making the reader feel disorientated or exhausted. Throughout the 1930s, Loeser travels from Weimar Berlin to bohemian Paris and finally to Los Angeles, where everyone deducts that he must be an escaped Jew from the Nazi regime. Which is untrue, mind you. The historical drama of the time period is more or less downplayed. I like the fact that Nazism is relatively idle throughout the novel, portrayed as more of a vexing force than a dominating one. It allows for the historical milieu to culminate a sense of scientific adventure, which I think is very true of the time, yet overshadowed in history by the abhorrent ideologies that drove it.
Likewise, Beauman does a couple of things that really lighten the book’s premise. First off, his perception of the world is acutely funny, in a sarcastically British way. For example, I found the book’s first sentence hilarious. That sentence alone hooked me into buying the book. Maybe it will do so for you, too.
‘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 make when she attempts a seductive pout is a quotation of the quacking noise your last girlfriend made during sex.’
And secondly, the dilemma of Loeser’s inability to get laid not only strikes chords of empathy, but also turns the scrutiny inward, where we can see how absurd the grasp of sexuality is on our own lives. I know that a loveless stint can quickly change from ‘island-hopping’ (to put it crudely) into an unbearable state of being. Girls are just girls, boys just boys, right?
But Loeser’s self-assessment according to his sexual successes is a spot on representation of my Gen Y comrades. We have survived the years of sexual liberation only to find ourselves engaged in a drawn-out game of squash, bouncing the ball of our desire off the concrete walls of sexual politics and sexual obsession and sexual insecurities and sexual ‘leagues’ and . . . Christ, the list never ends. So here, cleverly veiled, Beauman makes us philosophise in a very gentle and amusing sort of way. It seems he agrees with me when I say that an unwilling departure from sexual activity is ill for the mind.
Beauman’s genre splicing deserves commendation. I reckon half of the Teleportation Accident’s charm derives from its stylised parallel universe. Beauman has managed to integrate a science-fiction premise into the 1930s, essentially evoking an Alan Moore Watchmen-esque reinvention of history – although Watchmen dealt with the Cold War. And yet, stylised fiction has its pitfalls. At times, Beauman portrays a youthful enthusiasm for language that teeters on the deadline of self-indulgence. Most of the time, the writing is beautiful and faultless. Other times, however, a sense of meaninglessness and complacency settles in, which does nothing for the reader’s understanding of the story.
I can compare Beauman’s over-writing to an immaculate dancer performing to a mirror. The dancer watches her feet, perfects the steps, focuses on becoming graceful – but these are all things that remain in the studio. Maybe as a young girl her instructor told her ‘less is more,’ but she shrugged off the cliché, only realising when she perfected the more challenging motion that beauty is not quantified by difficulty. So, on performance night, the details should vanish. She should become amorphous, seamless, like a walking Impressionist painting. We, as an audience, should never see the repetitions that haunt and plague the dancer at night. And as the poor girl steps on stage, she thinks: what if I botch the third movement? What if the choreography lacks some fresh interpretation?
For a writer, words are his dance steps and the pen his feet. If we stumble for too long, we lose focus and lack variety and threaten to fall. And if we indulge too much, the viewers will see our backbone, a glimpse into the mirror that we’ve practiced our steps at day in and day out. Fractures begin to appear between the lines, and, if unlucky enough, the dancer might forget a step and trip over her feet.
That being said, I feel as though the liveliness of Beauman’s perception of the world and his capacity to find humour in situations seemingly deprived of lightheartedness redeems an occasional lapse in expression. Admittedly, I’m privy to dense writing, as I find it interesting to decode and surround myself in, but I recognise its inaccessibility and esoteric attributes. Other things, like haphazard references to H. P. Lovecraft fall short of my intrigue, but maybe I missed something there.
I think Beauman has many more books under his belt. Check out his remarkable portfolio with the Guardian, as well as his first novel Boxer, Beetle and recently released Glow. I’m waiting in the wings, shifting weight from toe to toe, hoping for the future of this very young and intelligent British writer to unfold.