Ned Beauman’s novel The Teleportation Accident is, well, it’s a little hard to explain. But it’s all good.
At first glance, the plot may seem simple: the main character, stage designer Egon Loeser, wants to get laid. He has a specific woman in mind: Adele Hitler (no relation to Adolf Hitler). But overall isn’t too picky. In fact, Loeser seems quite perplexed as to why a catch such as himself has so much trouble with women (readers should have no trouble figuring it out).
Midway through the novel, Loeser runs into Dieter Ziesel, a former acquaintance—and quickly Loeser asks “You’re married… To a living, human woman… Is she physically or mentally deformed… Did any money change hands… Does she let you have sex with her?” And before poor Ziesel can mumble a response, Loeser rants “You’re married. You’re actually married. I, Egon Loeser, haven’t got laid in half a decade and you, Dieter Ziesel, come out here and straight away you find a wife.”
Perhaps Loeser’s obsession with sex wouldn’t be quite so odd if his story didn’t begin in Berlin. In 1931. But Loeser is blithely unaware of anything political. When he leaves Germany for Paris and then for the United States, it’s not because he’s concerned about violence or the threat of war. He just wants to find Adele. In the US, when a woman he meets at a party tells him “My husband and I know only a little about the situation in Germany… but we know it’s very difficult”, his silent response is “What did she mean? Difficult to get laid unless you were Brecht? Was she about to invite him to pillage her quietly in the bushes?”
Of course, this is only one plotline (although I use the term loosely). Another dominant plot point is the Teleportation Accident of 1679—an accident involving Loeser’s hero, Renaissance set designer Adriano Lavicini who created the Teleportation Device, a theatrical tool designed to “whisk” actors from one scene to the next. Unfortunately, it malfunctioned and killed 25 people. The big question: Did it happen because of a deal with the devil?
Add to this a string of murders, a philandering wife, a con man, the search for a pornographic book, numerous references to H.P. Lovecraft, gland transplants, an explosion, and a section titled Zeitgeisterbahnhöfe, and the book is almost complete. In short, the book jacket probably says it best; The Teleportation Accident is “a historical novel that doesn’t know what year it is; a noir novel that turns all the lights on; a romance novel that arrives drunk to dinner; a science fiction novel that can’t remember what ‘isotope’ means”.
The book is, at times, confusing, and to truly enjoy the book, the confusion — along with the inconsistencies and the impossibilities — is something that must be embraced. For this reason, The Teleportation Accident might possibly be one of the most read — but not finished — books of the year.
Still, hopefully most will choose to complete the trek and make it through the endings (yes, there is more than one), primarily because even with the confusion, the writing is simply brilliant.
Beauman reminds us that language is fun. We see this when Loeser contemplates his sexual predicament: “At this point he couldn’t quantify his sexual frustration any more than he could weigh his own brain… It was too much a part of him. Unlike his penis, which he now regarded as a sort of ungrateful hitchhiker, a fatuous vestigium.” When he complains about a hangover:
“He realised at once that a mistake had been made: he had been sent the wrong hangover. Somewhere in northern Rhodesia there was a bull elephant who had got drunk on fermented marula fruit, rampaged through a nearby village, and fallen asleep in a ditch, and was now pleasantly surprised to find itself greeting the day with only the mild headache that follows a couple of bottles of good red wine…”
When Loeser describes something far too thoughtful for his character: “Loeser watched two young deer running down Palmetto Drive, nacreous in the twilight, ghosts on a frictionless plane”.
The Teleportation Accident is a book with a lot going on, and it almost defies summation. At its core—it’s a stylish, weird, witty, innovative, head-shaking kind of book. It’s a book that, by the end, no one should be surprised when an actor can’t perform because a giant papier-mâché cupcake rolled over him. It should seem normal that Loeser could wake up, smell “a cacodemoniac swirl of rubber and garlic and dysentery and murder”, assume the US military had attacked his house with poison gas, and think that breathing through a urine-soaked undershirt would protect him.
Best advice: read the book, enjoy the confusion, embrace the incoherence, and have fun.