WHAT IT'S ABOUT: First of all, it's been fun seeing what other sites have tried to say about this book in summary. Often the synopses are misleading, but I can sort of see why. So I'll do my best to put it in my own words - ones that are meant to paint an honest picture rather than a purposefully enticing one.
This is the story of Egon Loeser. It's the story of a man who conveniently escapes WWII-era Germany because he chases a woman around the world. It's the story of a man consumed by his need to get laid, who manages to lose dear possessions on a regular basis, who is so self-absorbed that he stumbles into others' games with each other until he stumbles out of them. It's the story of a man whose existence is like a prolonged sigh in a world that's always a little tilted to the side.
And then sometimes it's not. Sometimes it's about an ex-pat "confidence man" or a professor's life as a boy. The ties are still to Loeser, but the focus is elsewhere. The running thread through it all is the "Teleportation Device" by an artist named Lavicini, which is said to have killed a dozen people in a theatre accident.
Eventually -- as in, 57% of the way through the novel -- there are murders.
I can't break it down into these categories like I usually do. The author consistently uses devices that are interesting - some worked, some didn't, but most were both at the same time. His bizarre humor throughout? Worked. The sudden breaking away into characters that weren't Egon Loeser? Sort of worked. His first sentence? ... ... ...
I have much to say on the first sentence.
The first sentence of this novel is a rambling metaphor - or rather, a series of metaphors, acknowledged as metaphors. It hooked me. But it also established an air of pretentiousness that persisted like a smog. Suddenly the pages were inundated with characters, historical references, and so much telling going on that I couldn't get more than 2% through the novel. It felt like reading a 1930's hipster's journal as he observed these events, were a contemporary hipster to use the titular device to actual travel to that era.
But after I did get past that initial part, the other 98% flew by.
Sure, there were other rambling metaphors. There were philosophical tangents. Twice (before the ending, which breaks the book to pieces in an alternate way), the chapters suddenly become about some other minor, impossibly interesting character who crosses paths with Loeser, as though the author got bored with the dichotomous personality that is his quirky-yet-gloomy protagonist. But this book had me laughing out loud. It kept introducing fascinating, disparate characters -- one of my favorite being Colonel Gorge, whose hosting abilities are reminiscent of the Mad Hatter. I wouldn't want to befriend Loeser, but he was interesting and human enough that I liked following him around. And the writing style feels fresh, despite its historical placement.
It's the kind of novel where you're not sure what its trajectory is. There's a basic goal - find Adele, the subject of Loeser's lust - but he's so sidetracked ("derailed," more like) that this storyline becomes a mere subplot. But honestly, I enjoyed the novel most when it wasn't about Loeser's sex life.
Know what surprised me about this book? It wasn't romantic or moralistic but it managed to have some really touching, genuine moments. It made comments without being preachy and it showed an interesting perspective of World War II that was unsentimental yet tasteful -- until it takes a somber, quiet turn that arrives in the form of a nostalgic conversation, which was still woven into the story with grace.
And I must say, the very last paragraph still has me laughing. Which means the final sentence more than made up for the faults of the first.
OVERALL RATING: Well gosh. I want a hard copy of this book now and it comes out THIS MONTH on the 26th (my birthday, it so happens - coincidence? yes. yes it is). Its target audience is really 18+, but I strongly recommend this novel for anyone who likes a nice blend of quirky humor, mystery, and historical fiction-- as long as you can get past the minor segments of mechanical and redundant eroticism (or descriptions of the lack-thereof). But seriously, give it a shot. Just... make sure you read all of Part 1 before you give it up, if you're tempted to. I'm sure glad I stuck with it.
Review in Haiku
Sure: it's pretentious.
But it's complex and unique,
And it made me laugh.
Thank you to Ned Beauman, Bloomsbury Publishing, and the admins at NetGalley for lending this title to me for review.