The Teleportation Accident
A Novel by Ned Beauman
2012 / 357 Pages
For Egon Loeser, life would be perfect if only he could have sex with the girl of his dreams, Ms. Adele Hitler. But Loeser lives in Berlin in the 1930s, and the social scene just isn’t what it used to be. Nowadays, everyone is preoccupied with Nazis and global politics, but all Loeser wants to do is enjoy himself, preferable with Adele and few lines of coke. But Adele is hardly interested in a self-indulgent, cynical misanthrope like Egon Loeser (it’s no coincidence that his name is one letter away from “loser”), so she doesn’t even send her admirer so much as a goodbye postcard when she moves to Paris. But for Loeser, Adele is one of only two sources of momentum in his life, so he follows his heart to Paris in search of his dream girl, which is where a whole other series of adventures begins for our reluctant hero.
The second source of momentum in Loeser’s life is a legend – well, maybe it’s a legend. Maybe the story is true. To Loeser, the infamous legend of Lavicini’s teleportation machine is anything but. In fact, Loeser is just as determined to solve the mystery of Lavicini’s legacy as he is to find Adele. And when the two intersect, things take a sharp and entertaining turn toward absurdity. Written as part science fiction, part mystery, part historical fiction, and part comedy, The Teleportation Accident follows Loeser as he embarks on a lifelong journey of adventure, farce, and mishaps in search of good sex and teleportation.
Ned Beauman’s Man Booker Prize nominated novel is unlike anything I’ve ever encountered. It’s like a crazy Mary Poppins grab bag of discussion points and plot devices. One minute you’re reading about Loeser’s opinion of artists and writers such as Dada, Brecht, and Hemingway, and the next moment you’re following him up and down the streets of Hollywood in search of the perfect “American hamburger sandwich.” But it’s also a novel about war, politics, Hollywood, theatre, film, religion, communism, travel, sex, paranoia, and public transportation (among other things). By all counts, The Teleportation Accident should be pure chaos, but somehow everything comes together in the end. Well, I guess I should say “ends,” considering that the book contains four alternate/simultaneous/interchangeable endings. I know. It sounds crazy and disordered, but as they say, there is order in chaos. Or else Ned Beauman has us all happily fooled!
The Teleportation Accident is fresh, funny, and smart. The prose is witty, the storyline is absurd but fitting, and the historical aspects are well-researched and flavorful. And, it’s possibly the most hilariously quotable books of the year. Here are a few of my favorite “Loeserisms” :
- “There was no flat surface near by so they just sniffed the coke off the sides of their hands and then licked up the residue. One of the great skills of Berlin social life was to make this awkward self-nuzzling into an elegant gesture; Loeser knew he resembled a schoolboy trying to teach himself cunnilingus.” (p. 26)
- “To be that nice all the time, thought Loeser, just didn’t make sense. It was inhuman, illogical, saccahrine, and cowardly. You couldn’t truly love anything if you didn’t hate at least something. Indeed, perhaps you couldn’t truly love anything if you didn’t hate almost everything.” (p.29)
- “Loeser’s parents had died in a car crash, and ever since he had hated cars. He had never learned to drive, and he refused even to be a passenger in a private vehicle. Taxis were all right because a taxi was essentially a very specific bus. And trains were relaxing. But trams were best.” (p. 61)
- “He had always hated that period towards the end of a meal when long gaps opened up between utterances: there was something repulsive and undignified about that shared awareness of the human animal’s basic inability to think and digest at the same time.” (p. 143)
Beyond merely describing its contents as brilliant, it’s fairly difficult to explain exactly what The Teleportation Accident is all about. On the surface it seamlessly blends multiple genres together as it attempts to tell the not so heroic tale of one young Egon Loeser, a German born theatrical set designer who desires nothing more out of life than to either snort coke up his nose or to fuck, fuck, fuck any woman who’ll have him, or if possible both. The only problem is that no matter how hard he tries, finding willing participants with which to engage in either of these two activities seems to be damn near impossible at every turn.
“Sometimes when I get out of the bath I catch sight of myself in the mirror and I feel as if even my own penis is bitterly disappointed in me.”
Berlin in the early 30s is great, until of course it isn’t. It’s here that Loeser, who is immediately introduced to readers as “a total prick” (a sentiment that’s reiterated during the novel’s closing moments) finds himself struggling by day to get a play about a famed set designer named Adriano Lavicini produced while at night striking out sexually at party after party only to crawl home alone, sleep it off and wake up the next day hung over and eager to try again.
Lavicini was supposedly involved in a major incident which claimed his life in the latter part of the seventeen century. This act has come to be known as “The Teleportation Accident.” It’s said that his greatest piece of theatrical wizardry, a device known as “Lavicini’s Extraordinary Mechanism for the Almost Instantaneous Transport of Persons from Place to Place” exploded, destroying a theater and ending the lives of at least twenty-five of the people who were gathered together there at the time to see the play “The Lizard Prince.”
At a party one night Loeser is reunited with a young girl now turned young woman named Adele Hitler (no relation!) whom he used to tutor. Back then she was an ugly beast, but seeing her now Loeser is instantly possessed with the overwhelming desire to make it his mission in life to fuck her. As expected, things don’t go his way. He confides in his best friend’s well hung gay lover about his plans for Adele, and by the time he comes to realize that the man in question is in fact bi-sexual it’s far too late. The two have already disappeared together.
“As everyone knows, all those English public-school boys are Gillette blades. They cut both ways.”
Loeser will spend the next fifteen years of his life tracking Adele across the world while inadvertently finding himself at the center of one shit storm after another along the way. As it’s said, the chase is more often than not a much more pleasurable experience than the inevitable catch.
Author Ned Beauman uses this basic premise as a spring board to explore multiple genres including romance, comedy, noir, espionage, crime fiction, science fiction, and historical fiction. I could explain in further detail the events which transpire, but to do so would only ruin the novel’s most magical qualities. Let’s just say these plot lines, Loeser’s seperate obsessions with both Adele and Lavicini, eventually intersect in surprising ways and leave it at that because this is a book that doesn’t really lend itself to being reviewed, but does however beg to be discussed by those who have read it. Therefore, without spoiling too much, I humbly put forth the following questions:
Is Loeser a poster boy for Beauman to present his idea that being ignorant to the events taking place in the larger world around you is the best way to live? Loeser isn’t Jewish, but does get out of Berlin before the Nazis come to power and he does pretend to be Jewish when he reaches Los Angeles in a bid to take advantage of American sympathies. He doesn’t appear to be completely ignorant to what’s happening in his homeland as much as he is disinterested in it all. For example, when he receives horrific letters in the mail from one of his closest friends back home they only serve to make him annoyed when the man starts talking about the hardships he’s been forced to endure as if he’s only telling the tales for the sole purpose of making Loeser feel sorry for him.
Can parallels be drawn between Loeser’s blind ambition to bed Adele Hitler (no relation!) and Adolph Hitler’s obsession with eradicating the Jews? At one point Loeser’s friend Achleitner says it best:
“The Nazis, he had written in his latest, ‘are wedded to a sort of aesthetico-moral fallacy, which is that if a man has blond hair, blue eyes and strong features, then he will also be brave, loyal, intelligent and so on. They truly believe that goodness has some causal kinship with beauty. Which is idiotic, yes, but no more idiotic than you are, Egon. When you see a girl like Adele Hitler with an innocent, pretty face, can you honestly tell me you don’t assume she must be an angelic person?”
Do all four of the novel’s endings (yes four!) combine to tell one larger “truth” or they instead different theories on what may have/could still possibly happen?
What is Beauman trying to say about religion? Certainly that it’s not a bad thing to have a little faith, in fact possibly the opposite, that even the absence of belief can drive individuals to do crazy things?
What’s Beauman playing at by slightly altering history in subtle ways as the story progresses? For example, there’s no way ketamine was introduced in Berlin in the 1930s since it wasn’t even created until the 1960s. And wasn’t the idea of an overhead street car system introduced and dismissed in Los Angeles in 1887, far before the 1935 date the novel claims and way before significant automobile traffic would have played a key role in the decision?
I don’t have all the answers, but I’d love to open up the discussion with others who have finished this one. If the Booker judges are truly looking for novels that beg to read multiple times in order to gain more understanding of what’s occurring within the story then this perplexingly brilliant piece of fiction should take the prize hands down. I’d read it again…and again…and again…if only I didn’t have six other potentially worthy nominees presently vying for my time.
In other words, this is one book out of the twelve that you don’t want to miss.