I don’t just love a good book. I really love a good writer because writing is both a skill and an artform.
In today’s world there are a few masterful wordsmiths who can not only turn a memorable phrase, but who can fully immerse you into their illuminating narrative. Those are the ones I applaud and whose talents I honor when I blog about them.
Again while browsing the NEW BOOK section of the library, I ran across Satin Island by Tom McCarthy. Amazing! It’s subtle, distinct, but covertly deep as the Mariana Trench.
Tom McCarthy is definitely a “Writer’s writer”—one who electrifies the mundane with rich philosophical underpinnings masked by dry British understatement.
Without a doubt, LIFE is truly metaphor—and McCarthy’s every word becomes your symbolic stepping stone from banality to profundity, amassed under the guise of simplistic reporting of daily life around him—assessing the journey from here to there and back again.
His main character in this novel is called “U”—no name, just “U”. You got that, right? U is YOU, not directly of course, but by inference and association. He’s very Ericksonian (as in Milton—the great hypnotherapist). And his boss’s name is Peyman (yes, “pay-man”). I laughed when I finally got that.
Here’s a quote from the book cover about the novel’s contents: …”U., a ‘corporate anthropologist,’ is tasked with writing the Great Report, an all-encompassing ethnographic document that would sum up our era. Yet at every turn he feels himself overwhelmed by the ubiquity of data, lost in buffer zones, wandering through crowds of apparitions, willing them to coalesce into symbols that can be translated into some kind of account that makes sense….In Satin Island, Tom McCarthy captures—as only he can—the way we experience our world, our efforts to find meaning (or just to stay awake) and discern the narratives we think of as our lives.”
It’s not an adventure novel—unless your adventure lies primarily in finding meaning from all aspects of your life. He starts with U sitting in Turin, Italy—or more appropriately in the Torino-Caselle airport waiting for a plane home. First sentence is this: “Turin is where the famous shroud is from, the one showing Christ’s body supine after crucifixion….”
A few sentences later he tells how the Shroud of Turin myth was debunked by carbon-dating, then says, “But that didn’t trouble the believers. Things like that never do. People need foundation myths, some imprint of year zero, a bolt that secures the scaffolding that in turn holds fast the entire architecture of reality, of time… We see things shroudedly, as through a veil, an over-pixellated screen.”
And that’s the gist of his novel: he works for a corporation that makes its living selling a narrative of what contemporary life means so that other corporations can profit from the data in some way (while obscuring the actual ecological damages being done to the planet).
His boss, Peyman, makes a living selling “narratives”—does that mean the narrative is truth or simply whatever Peyman is selling? U asks himself that question.
Overall, McCarthy’s descriptions are kinetic and animated— by the 3rd page into the book I had grabbed my pencil to tag descriptive sentences. One of my favorites involved “double-bumping over a railroad track.”
Will this novel be the book for everyone? Probably not. But for fellow writers who blushingly marvel at a colleague’s writing skills, there is much to admire about Tom McCarthy.