Reading Satin Island by Tom McCarthy is a bit like being on a waltzer or a switchback. It's simultaneously thrilling and migraine inducing. It's also over incredibly swiftly and leaves you feeling mildly unnerved, like you're sure there was a point to all that wizardry, but you're not sure whether the point was to leave you feeling defeated. The tropes of the novel are all about surface and depth, truth and falsehood, the raw and the cooked, all of which are suggested and then postponed by buffering. The novel itself keeps on buffering, calling for patience, calling for us to wait and see whether in time meaning will emerge, and the narrative will resume something approaching normal service. There is a sense of shimmering, of weightlessness. There is a sense of pattern, of burnishing something perfect and lovely. This novel, which is deliberately anti-real, nevertheless deals with the virtual shifting realities that we take for granted in our lives, our news-feeds, our online identities, even if we resist it in our contemporary fiction.
The narrator, U, (maybe you, ie us, maybe Ulysses) is a voyager, tasked with the great reveal: the story of our age, deciphering the deeply encrypted codes that make meaning for us. U works as a 'corporate anthropologist' for The Company. A nod to Kafka and to Saussure here. His task, which he never seems to start, which is endlessly deferred (pace Derrida) nonetheless succeeds in conferring upon him status, even applause. The deferrals, by which I mean the novel itself, constitute a series of disconnected observations, proposals, anecdotes, insights, and suppositions, leaving us feeling both overstimulated and under-served. Cleverly though, in spite of its many disparate and unfulfilling parts, the sum total does add up to a shifting yet piercing ethnographic account of our status-addicted tribe (mankind circa 2015).
The copyright of this post belongs to Claire Steele