So, imagine P. G. Wodehouse ran into Will Self in a speakeasy, and the pair got roaring drunk and decided to rewrite The Berlin Stories by way of Day of the Locust. Dazed and hungover in the morning, they look shamefaced at each other and slink away, leaving the slightly greasy pages of their manuscript, The Teleportation Accident, on the bed. The maid comes along, picks it up, thinks it’s pretty good and – hey presto! – it’s Booker longlisted (I imagine that’s how these things work, right?)
I’ve come to The Teleportation Accident via the all-knowing book pot, without really remembering how it got there, and vaguely suspecting the book was a 1950s sci-fi pastiche. It’s not, because the teleportation of the title is actually only really a stage trick, and the novel is instead a sort of history-sex-farce taking our ‘hero’ Loeser from pre-war Berlin, to Paris, and finally to Los Angeles, all in pursuit of Adele Hitler (no relation), a woman he is erotically obsessed with to the point of absurdity. The book is partly a three-act wander through the three cities, all three sketched nimbly and evocatively, but it quite unashamedly avoids exploring anything of what is happening regarding the war — Loeser makes a point of not really giving a flying fuck, leaving the horrors of the era to hover at the edges, encroaching on the text only through the reader’s own sense of context. When it comes to plot there’s simultaneously not a lot else happening – the backbone of the book of his search for Adele, and the paunchiest section of the book is when that quest seems to waver for awhile – yet crammed full of entertaining subplots that include a serial killer, a saucy book about nurses, a potential poltergeist, international espionage, avant-garde theatre, a philandering novelist and a French con-man. Somehow, the novel strings those all together to be not only cohesive, but so downright well-knitted together that the whole thing feels like a perfectly-constructed murder mystery wherein both its clues and its solution are rather unusually holistic.
Part of this, and one of the finest quirks of the book, is it’s dogged dedication to Chekhov’s gun principle: anything that is introduced, even in a passing mention, without fail, will always return, with varying degrees of significance. But a novel mentioned by a character in chapter three will undoubtedly return at the conclusion, much the same as an integral figure’s story vanished from the narrative may be unexpectedly concluded through the odd machinations of seemingly unimportant details later in the novel. It’s something of a masterpiece in that regard, and it’s the wily inventiveness of all its many ludicrous twists and turns, fused with genuine hilarity, wicked turns of phrase and a superbly unreliable narrator that makes The Teleportation Accident the most compulsive read of 2014 (sped through in two nights), and the book pot’s best success to date. Highly recommended, if you stop just before the inexplicable last chapter.