Satin Island by Tom McCarthy
Vintage Digital (ebook), 2015
I was given a free copy of this book in exchange for a review by the publisher via NetGalley.
What It’s About
Meet U. – a talented and uneasy figure currently pimping his skills to an elite consultancy in contemporary London. His employers advise everyone from big businesses to governments, and, to this end, expect their ‘corporate anthropologist’ to help decode and manipulate the world around them – all the more so now that a giant, epoch-defining project is in the offing.
Instead, U. spends his days procrastinating, meandering through endless buffer-zones of information and becoming obsessed by the images with which the world bombards him on a daily basis: oil spills, African traffic jams, roller-blade processions, zombie parades. Is there, U. wonders, a secret logic holding all these images together – a codex that, once cracked, will unlock the master-meaning of our age? Might it have something to do with South Pacific Cargo Cults, or the dead parachutists in the news? Perhaps; perhaps not.
As U. oscillates between the visionary and the vague, brilliance and bullshit, Satin Island emerges, an impassioned and exquisite novel for our disjointed times.
TURIN IS WHERE the famous shroud is from; the one showing Christ’s body supine after crucifixion: hands folded over genitals, eyes closed, head crowned with thorns.
What I Thought
Satin Island didn’t work for me.
For years, I’ve avoided reading any books that have been nominated for or have won the Booker prize. Past experience has taught me that these books tend to be the opposite of books I enjoy. However, Hilary Mantel won the Booker two years running with Wolf Hall and Bring up the Bodies. I love both of these books so started to warm towards the Booker.
Unfortunately, Satin Island is a prime example of the type of novel I hate and the reason I tend to give literary award winners and nominees a wide berth. I found the novel to be pretentious and self-indulgent. U waffles on for pages and pages about his tedious-sounding work as an anthropologist. I felt no connection to the characters or events. I couldn’t care less about anyone or anything.
I read all types of fiction and the thing I look for every time is quite simple – the author needs to create a world that’s so real I can get lost in it and create characters I root for who live and breathe. Satin Island does neither of these things.
There’s only one good thing I have to say about this novel – it’s mercifully short. I didn’t need to wade through hundreds of pages of U’s self-indulgent twaddle.