Saturday, 2 October 2010

Just read: Transmission by Hari Kunzru

Charlene, in a comment below asked: “Are you launching a blog that sells books or are you launching a blog about book shops?” Good question – it’s complicated. My bookshop is on the web to sell books and this blog is part of it. But the bookshop is for fun too, especially the backroom with its pub and all. I like to think of the blog as the conversations I might have with some customers if the bookshop was real rather than virtual. It’s about writing on my writing, but also about writing on the writing of others. So here goes with the latter.

I’ve just finished reading the novel Transmission, and I miss it. Always the sign of a good book.

I did not take to the book at first. The initial chapter contained a lot of disconnected paragraphs separated by short italicised statements, and a list of unpunctuated one liners, also disconnected. Nothing against experimentation of course, but don’t expect me to enjoy it.

It took me a while to befriend the main character Arjun Mehta. Arjun is an Indian computer geek with an intimate sister, a traditional family, an obsession for an Indian film actress and an obsessive desire to escape to the promise of America. I grew to like him more as he finally took off for his dream job in the USA and sympathised when his dream rapidly disintegrated. This made me even happier when the dream job did finally become a reality.

The title ‘Transmission’ means something to me that it does not to many. In my past life transmission was all about sending signals, over wires or radio links or whatever, and all the things that can go wrong with the signals. I was delighted to find that Kunzru has a similar understanding of the word and makes constant reference to the impossibility of receiving a perfect message: be that a spoken one or one sent via email or whatever.

I didn’t like Guy with his meaningless corporate psychobabble and shallow life, but did warm to Kunzru’s devastating portrayal of racy PR. I didn’t like his girlfriend much either and was beginning to wonder if all the different tales in this book were merely a series of unrelated threads.

Then the glorious denouement begins as Arjun’s virus is unleashed onto a world grown fat and overly dependent on its IT systems. Gradually all of those threads are drawn together in a very satisfying way even though Arjun and his adored film actress both vanish without trace. Good stuff. I shall read another novel of his someday.

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