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Ned Beauman – Teleportation Accident – in Parry Sound 29 October 2012

One of the Best New British Writers comes to Parry Sound - here is a review by Stevan McCallum, one of the International Festival of Authors Parry Sound committee members Ned Beauman, who was named one of the Best New British Writers in 2011 by BBC 2’s Culture Show will join authors Susan Swan, Annabel Lyon and Miranda Hill as the International Festival of Authors makes a stop in Parry Sound on Monday 29 October, at the Charles W. Stockey Centre.

Ned Beauman’s second novel “The Teleportation Accident” unfolds across a decade of Egon Loeser’s outrageous, privileged world, where his social life is miserable and often uncomfortably hilarious. As the title should suggest, the story is a series of episodes in a variety of places, where characters fatefully re-appear to complicate Loeser’s life. The only constants, aside from the protagonist, are the events of the 1930s unraveling in the background. Loeser muddles his way through a life where, “the two subjects most hostile to his sense of a man’s life as an essentially steady, comprehensible and Newtonian-mechanical undertaking were accidents and women.”

Loeser is a Berlin stage designer who has modeled a Teleportation Device for an important Berlin stage production which history has doomed it to fail. Repeatedly. And, the enduring quality of his character, making him a lovable-loser, is his inability to become an immoral being. He tries hard to make the wrong choices, but finds himself only ever close to acting out the transgressions so many around him commit.

Beauman’s success in this novel is bringing intelligence to the farce and offering wit without being elitist. In one of the more outrageous moments, Loeser befriends an American confidence man living in 1930 Paris. The confidence man names many of the literary jet-set that could be living in Paris during this time. The reader, like the mark, finds the logic plausible and is reasonably convinced that Fitzgerald or Hemingway is just around the corner, in the next bar. It would be easy to be duped by Beauman’s 1934 Paris unless one is perfectly confident in his or her knowledge of the history. Fortunately, the events turn so utterly absurd (in Paris, the ruse involves lychee-fruit passed-off as monkey parts for a age-defying, non-intrusive surgery on two women) readers need not worry about being too gullible to draw a line.

And therein lies one of the humbling aspects of reading this novel: keeping up with what is real. One caveat of reading historical fiction must surely be approaching the book with a healthy skepticism: a reader mustn’t take the events or characters as fact. It is packed with references to literature, history and culture. Many events ring true and others are plausible. I often felt it necessary to resist the urge to read the book with a laptop or smartphone nearby to verify some of the content. Loeser and his contemporaries reference books, literary movements and historical events. Did Germans really read Berlin Alexanderplatz in the 1930s? (According to Wikipedia, yes!). Was there a writer from Devon called Rupert Rackenham? (No, since he has no entry in the above source).

While the slapstick and farce allow us to laugh because it’s not happening to us, the challenge, I suppose, with dark comedy is finding the appropriate line where an audience’s level of discomfort and their sense of humour intersect. “The Teleportation Accident” appears to have found the appropriate line for his dark comic moments, but decides to operate on either side of it. Undoubtedly, some readers will find the private discussions and thoughts of Loesner and other male characters offensive--though not without some merit.

Stevan McCallum is currently teaching English at Parry Sound High School. His ideal novel would be co-authored by Margaret Atwood and Nick Hornby.

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