What if Neil Gaiman’s right and David Mitchell’s left hands typed out a story from James Blaylock’s notes? The result could only be Ned Beauman’s 2012 The Teleportation Accident.
By turns charming and exuberant, with a small genre conceit tucked inside what is otherwise historical fiction, The Teleportation Accident is a delight. Based on its line by line cleverness and getting caught up in a cavorting tale that treads the line between plausibility and reality, the reader can’t help but give in and let the glitz of modernism pre-WWII wash over them, one finely tuned simile and turn of phrase at a time.
The Teleportation Accident is the humorously tragic story of Egon Loeser, a sex-obsessed socialite German set designer living in Berlin in the ‘30s. His carnal desires already suffering due to a lack thereof, one cocaine dusted night he’s pushed to the brink of madness when meeting the woman of his dreams. Going overboard, Loeser gives up all pretense of a normal life and heads to the bars and lights of Paris, and eventually crosses the Atlantic, to pursue his new obsession as the world crumbles around him.
Not the tale of a mad pervert (rather a vacuous metrosexual, early 20th century style), the The Teleportation Accident is fully supported by a backstory that features the flapper era and the Great Depression blindly just over the horizon. Hitler is settling his claws into Loeser’s Germany—without many of Loeser’s friends taking notice or caring. And all the while, ticking away in the back of Loeser’s mind, is a great mystery surrounding his hero, the set designer Lavicini and the teleportation device he was purpoted to have created centuries earlier.
There are a fair number of negative reviews of The Teleportation Accident. The praise coming from high places (it was longlisted for the Booker) and the criticism the low, critics have largely applauded the novel whereas readers looking for formulaic or easily accessible fiction (e.g. goodreads and Amazon) are often put off. The prose potentially confuscating (rather than the story or theme), if you do not enjoy the lively, energetic use of language that occasionally drools on its own shoes (one Amazon reviewer puts it: “At times it is lovable, brilliant and entertaining, at others you just want to tell it to sit in a corner quietly while it composes itself”) and a plot tucked behind character, dialogue, and scene, then don’t buy the book. The remainder is as straight-forward genre, as such things can be.
In the end, The Teleportation Accident is a witty, charming, and above all entertaining story of the roaring ‘20s meeting the horrors of fascism in the life of an inane yet driven set designer caught in a physics-defying mystery. Filled to the brim linguistically, Beauman’s story brews quietly in the background while his characters and their antics color the foreground in the savoriest, if not occasionally overeager, language. Like the writing of Terry Pratchett or Nick Harkaway, this is a book for people who enjoy the inventive use of English as much as they enjoy story and ideas…