Edinburgh International Book Festival: Ned Beauman & Nick Harkaway
Free coffee was included in the price of seeing Ned Beauman and Nick Harkaway discuss their recently released sophomore novels and this was a welcome addition to proceedings, considering the 10am timeslot they had been given. Thankfully no artificial stimulation was actually necessary as both Beauman and Harkaway gave enthused readings and discussion of their work under the bazaar-like Guardian Spiegeltent.
Beauman’s book The Teleportation Accident has recently been longlisted for the Booker Prize and is very ambitious in scale, taking protagonist Egon Loeser from his home in 1930’s Berlin and moving him in space and time into the incumbent tropes of a Chandeleresque LA. Similarly Harkaway does not shirk from the grand, as the many characters of his novel become involved with a powerful mechanical device and the story skips in time between present day and World War II. Asked if they felt more in common with modern American rather than British literature Beauman responded that in general there was a trend in the latter towards quite insular, isolated stories, whereas for him work from across the Atlantic tended to be about the moments individuals come into contact with the largest systems, corporations and structures pervading our lives.
In that sense then both Harkaway and Beauman do probably have more in common with American fiction. They embrace a range of genres within each work and seek to dislocate our notions of time and space, giving rise to what is something of a misnomer of a term: 'translit'. It is the sheer ambition of their new books that is exciting, and in conversation one got a real feeling for the breadth and depth of their influences, mentioning authors as diverse as David Foster Wallace, Neal Stephenson, Thomas Pynchon and Isaac Marion.
One should not mistake the humour and fantastical elements of their novels for an unmitigated irreverence though. Asked to explain the nine levels the title of his book functioned on Beauman listed one as the Holocaust, before going on to explain exactly what he meant. His novel is after all about the rise of Nazism and deals, as most fiction feels it can, obliquely with the Holocaust. He remarked that people are led into a room, which is sealed. Then, after an interval, the door is opened and they are no longer there. This is the most tragic teleportation accident of all and the poignant simplicity of the analogy highlights the new possibilities these works can offer up. A term like 'translit' may or may not catch on, but hopefully with novels as successful and interesting as these the movement it is trying to define will continue. [Ryan Rushton]