[Berlin in the 1930s. A set designer is trying to recreate a Teleportation Device for the stage, first used to disastrous effect at the court of Louis XIV]
The idea was that a harnessed actor could make a speech as a stockbroker in the little bank at the top right of the stage, step back out of view, and be whipped across to the little casino as the bottom left, from which he would step back into view almost instantly as a compulsive gambler. This would be an effective if unsubtle way of driving home the point about how the two were just the same. And if in this new play there was some business with masks and cloaks coming on and off, the effect could be even more striking….
At the Allien Theatre, a spring sprang. A counterweight dropped. An actor shot across the stage. And a scream was heard… Nobody died. The Allien Theatre was not rended apart. Klugweil just dislocated a couple of arms.
They didn’t confirm that until later, though. All Loeser and Blumstein could see as they rushed over was that Klugweil was dangling half out of the harness, limbs twisted, face white, eyes abulge.
observations: I happen to know that author Ned Beauman shares with me a great love for the works of blog favourite Michael Chabon, and the ideal reader for this book might be a Chabon fan. It is an amazingly inventive and clever novel, the kind that leaves you breathless. It is described on the back cover as being about ‘sex, violence, space, time’ and as ‘a noir novel that turns all the lights on.’ We follow Egon Loeser (it’s safe to assume that any hints you get from his name are intended by the author) through Europe in the 1930s – Berlin then Paris. Then he goes to LA. He is wholly uninterested in the great events going on in the world. He is chasing a woman. He would like to know more about the original Teleportation Device. He loses his favourite reading matter – a book of erotic photos with the quite splendid name of Midnight at the Nursing Academy – and tries to replace it.
While reading you just have to give yourself up to his adventures, and the wide range of characters and metaphors, and discussions of public transport, and passing references that the author thinks you will be clever enough to recognize. I loved the man with a mental disorder such that he cannot distinguish between pictures and the real thing – this is used to great & ingenious effect. There are plenty of jokes, it’s a very funny book. My favourite line – tangential to the main plot – concerns a rumour that the Pope is having monkey gland treatment (that great favourite of novels of the 1930s) to extend his life:
which made you wonder just what it was about that particular job that made you so desperate to postpone the big meeting you had scheduled with your boss.
If I had to make one teeny tiny criticism it is that an author as accomplished as this one could surely do more in the way of really great women characters. More books please, with more women....
The picture is from the German Federal Archives, and although it shows a woman wearing pyjamas in Vienna, I still thought it was the perfect image to illustrate the Teleportation Device in Berlin, and just an all-round great picture.