The Teleportation Accident, by Ned Beauman (Read by Dudley Hinton)
When I was talking about audiobooks a few weeks ago, I made reference to the fact that the narrator can make or break a book, and the Teleportation Accident is a prime example of this!
My local Blackwell’s recently had a table dedicated to the books longlisted for the Man Booker Prize, and though I didn’t have any money at the time, the Teleportation Accident’s cover caught my eye, and I after flicking through the first few pages, I thought that it sounded like a good read. A couple of weeks later, I found myself in the possession of a free-download from Audible.co.uk, so decided to give it a shot.
This was a mistake. The narrator stumbled over words, had only two emotions: bored or whiny, struggled with convincing female voices, and above all, has no talent for accents whatsoever, which I think is probably the main reason I hated he book so much. Some context: The first third of the book is set in Berlin, and with one exception, features exclusively German characters speaking German. The exception is an Englishman speaking German, with the same accent. I can (grudgingly) forgive this, because logistically it’s easier than having to have use different voices for the same characters when the language changes. However, when the action moves, first to Paris and then to California, the accents Hinton use border on parody, and make it very difficult to engage with the book, to the extent that by the time I got to the end of the first “side” as it were of the audiobook, I gave up and got the book out of the library.
This didn’t help matters that much, and despite how disappointed I was with the narration, a proportion of the blame must be attributed to the text itself. There are no likeable characters in the book, least of all Egon Loeser, the “protagonist”. Politically oblivious in Weimar Germany, Loeser is a Neo-Expressionist set designer, and possibly the best example of the rich-&-arrogant-drama-person cliche I’ve ever come across, and certainly his obsession with the perfect Adele Hitler (no relation!) and his vintage French pornography makes him the most pathetic protagonist I’ve ever read. Neither of these are compliments. I suppose, it may be that Beauman is trying to make a point, much of Loeser’s philosophy is based on the idea of equivalence, that you can tell a story using historical characters, roles, and archetypes and still have it ring true today. But I feel I may be over thinking it. With subplots ranging from Quantum research in McCarthy-era Caltech to the doomed-to-fail quest of one of Loeser’s acquaintances to become part of the Lost Generation in Paris, the only one that really interested me was that of Loeser’s idol, the (fictional) 17th century set designer Adriano Lavacini, who may or may not have unleashed Lovecraftian horror upon Paris and Louis XIV in the titular accident. No matter how compelling it was, it gets lost amid all the others, and the final resolution is more than disappointing.
I think the one thing that The Teleportation Accident has in its favour is that Beauman’s descriptive prose can be phenomenal. Just read the opening paragraph:
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.
It’s almost breathtaking, though it doesn’t quite make up for the deficiencies in plot and characterisation, based on the strength of this, I would probably read another of his books. However, it is yet another problem with the audiobook, as by the time the descriptive metaphor has finished, you’ve forgotten what the point of it was.
It may be that I’ve missed something, either through my own negligence or because of the appalling audiobook. Certainly most other people seem to think the book is great, but I just can’t get behind it.