Review: The Teleportation Accident, by Ned Beauman

121.Ned Beauman-The Teleportation Accident>>Published: July 2012

>>Finally got around to it: October 2013

The triumph of ketamine had coincided with the triumph of another dark horse, to use an unfortunate phrase—a certain pretty girl called Adele Hitler, who was now among the first rank of those all-too-influential foals and fillies. At that first party in Puppenberg, she’d been a novelty item, but by the end of 1931 she was getting more invitations than Brecht, and it wasn’t hard to see why: she could be relied upon to look stunning, she could be relied upon to get entertainingly drunk, and above all she could be relied upon to fuck someone worth gossiping about. Rackenham was just the beginning. When you heard about who Adele Hitler had gone to bed with after a particular party, it was like reading the solution to a really elegant murder mystery: you’d never for a moment suspected that it might be x, but now that you’d found out it really was x, you realised that it could never have been anybody other than x. She fucked Brecht because everybody did, she fucked Brogmann because nobody did; she fucked Littau because he was queer, she fucked Hannah Czenowitz because she was straight; she fucked Hecht because he had a girlfriend, she fucked Klein because he was known to be impotent; she fucked clarinet-playing Negroes and one-legged war veterans, drug dealers and ambassadors’ sons. And this was Adele Hitler’s legend: that in two years of astonishing promiscuity, she hadn’t ever fucked anyone more than once, and she hadn’t ever fucked anyone who could not, in one way or another, be considered a little bit of a coup.

***

In what’s more than likely a bit of deliberate wordplay, Egon Loeser is, in fact, one helluva loser. How much of a loser is he you might ask? Enough to become so hung up on his lust—not love, let me be perfectly clear on that matter—for one woman and one woman only that over the course of several years he chases her from Berlin to Paris, and eventually Los Angeles.

And just who is this loser of a Loeser? At the novel’s opening, in Berlin, 1931, Egon is a set designer for the theatre, actively pursuing his dream production—a recreation of Lavicini’s Teleportation Accident from three hundred years earlier. Along with his best friend Anton Achleitner, Egon spends his time outside of the theatre being dismissive of Berlin society and the local arts scene, lusting after Adele Hitler (no relation), avoiding his ex-lover Marlene Schibelsky, and buying cocaine from Rackenham, a hack writer Egon comes to despise.

When Adele ignores Loeser’s advances, opting instead to sleep with half of German society, both high and low, before departing for Paris, it sets Loeser on a mission to get what he believes to be his. He refuses to accept there might be another woman out there that could satisfy his desires, so he follows Adele to Paris. Once there, our emotionally imbalanced set designer/protagonist becomes the unwitting acquaintance of a man named Scramsfield—an American with a cowardly, humiliating past. Scramsfield is a wannabe confidence man lacking the quality of conviction needed to properly sell his many lies and half-truths. He manages to string poor Loeser along by claiming he knows Adele—along with half of history’s literary greats—and can take him to her… but instead leads Egon around town, bleeding him dry with drinks at every bar and café that will serve them while he continues to peddle his bullshit like he’s selling water from a stand in the middle of the Sahara.

From Paris, Loeser makes his way to Los Angeles, completely oblivious to the situation brewing in the Germany he left behind (that whole messy rise of Hitler and the Nazi party thing). Once there, he meets and falls in with a small crowd of artists, writers, and intellectuals—incredibly made up of some the people he assumed he’d left behind, turning up again as bad pennies always do—while resuming both his search for Adele and his secondary obsession of unearthing new knowledge and information related to Lavicini’s Teleportation Accident. All this while getting himself unexpectedly wrapped up in a plot involving a possible real-life teleportation device and a scientist of decidedly murderous intent.

On its face, Ned Beauman’s second novel has a lot going for it—a deft hand for the deliberate mangling of historical events, excellent wordplay and imagery, and a gift for sarcasm and absurdity. However, despite its many attributes, The Teleportation Accident was a mostly disappointing read. For all Loeser’s idiosyncrasies and hang-ups (such as the return rate of sex for writers—about one good fuck per published book—his petulant behaviour upon meeting Stent Mutton for the first time, and his strange inability to ride in any stranger’s car unless he sits in the back and pretends it’s a taxi), he’s just not that interesting a person to follow around for 350-plus pages. Point of fact, his eccentricities are often more infuriating than they are amusing.

Going a step further, by the beginning of the novel’s third part I found myself struggling to want to finish it. Not only is the narrative devoid of even one genuinely likable character—which would be fine were they at least interesting or compelling in some way—but by this point in the story, more than halfway through, it still felt as if nothing of consequence had happened. When experimental physics finally enter the scene the narrative does pick up a bit, but it comes too little too late to save the book from its own overwhelming cleverness.

That’s not to say I didn’t enjoy The Teleportation Accident at all. The interplay between Colonel Gorge, who suffers from severe visual agnosia, and his manservant Woodkin is the best and most assuredly comical writing in the entire novel, and offers a great deal of levity to the narrative’s final chapters. Unfortunately, though, that also more or less exemplifies what bothered me most about this title: while the moment-to-moment dialogue is sometimes entertaining, it feels as if it exists in a bubble. It never really offers enough depth or personality—apart from Colonel Gorge, who is at best a side character—to make me care about the characters on the page, all of whom are about as selfish and inwardly turned as one could imagine.

By the novel’s end, I felt more as if I’d read a series of skits or vignettes tied loosely together than having experienced a story. However unintentionally, it’s the author himself who, on page 154, managed to best capture my emotions towards the novel:

He’d wanted to read for a while, but the only novel he’d brought with him to America was Berlin Alexanderplatz, and although after three hundred and nine pages it really felt like it might be about to get going, he though he might need something more potent…

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