'The Teleportation Accident' by Ned Beauman

I’d never heard of Ned Beauman before. He wrote Boxer, Beetle, which was shortlisted for the Guardian First Book Award in 2010 and the Desmond Elliot Prize in 2011. Still, I’d never heard of him. So when Brighton Plot Bunnies were given several proof copies from local bookshops, and this was among them, I really, desperately hoped it would be as good as the front cover promised, as I am a sucker for Art Deco design.

I glanced, as I do, at the front page and began to read, and before I’d got to the end of the page, I was smirking. So, all I had to hope now was that it would live up to its promise and turn out to be a great book. Thankfully, it did.

We first meet Egon Loeser in Berlin in 1931, when he is 24. He works as a set designer and the eponymous Teleportation Accident happens right at the very beginning. The writing is fluid and funny, the descriptions spot on (sadly, I can’t give you any examples from a proof copy), and as it goes on, the reader finds out more about Loeser, who is trying so desperately to get into Adele Hitler’s knickers (no relation) that he winds up completely oblivious to the political storm brewing right under his nose.

The comedy continues throughout, but Beauman has put it to great use as a cover-up for the darkness which lurks beneath. This is 1930s Berlin, after all, so there’s no point in kidding ourselves that nothing sinister was going on at that time. Later on, he goes to Paris, where he meets American ‘not-confidence-trickster’ Scramsfield. The antics he ends up involved in as a result are ludicrous. Scramsfield can talk his way out of anything, it seems, his customary greeting to strangers being that he knows everyone and can get you an introduction. By 1935, Loeser has ended up in Los Angeles, and the comedy angle, though still very much present, is toned down as the atmosphere of the book begins to darken. The pacing is done very well as the transition is almost impossible to spot, but suddenly you realise that not all is what it seems here and that if Loeser isn’t careful, he’ll end up in trouble.

One of the most memorable characters is Colonel Gorge, who has suffered a mental condition as a result of selling car polish for several years. He now can’t tell the difference between a drawn representation of something and the object itself. This creates a fantastic opportunity for comedy, but at the same time, there’s a feeling of sympathy for the poor old Colonel. He isn’t stupid and his business acumen is as sharp as it ever was, but he has a condition which makes life extremely difficult for him, and which makes him the butt of many jokes. Gorge calls Loeser ‘Krauto’, which now, of course, would be frowned upon, but which in the mid 1930s would have been par for the course, and it also makes it very easy as a reader to hear his voice in your head.

And all through this is the Teleportation Device, hovering over Loeser as much as his lust for Adele, from which the book takes its title. The Teleportation Device is a contraption which is meant to propel actors across the stage in such a way as to make them look like they’ve disappeared from one place and reappeared somewhere else in a split second. If I were analysing this book as a *ahem* critic (wash my mouth out with soap), I would be tempted to say that, having read the whole thing, that first chapter presages what happens throughout the rest of the book. In fact, critics be damned, that’s what I’m saying. The clever bit is the way Ned Beauman manages this without you realising that’s what he’s doing. As a writer, then, I’ll be tempted to read this again and look for all the clues - because they will have been there all along - and then I’ll either be full of praise for Ned Beauman because he’s done it so well, or scream and rant and rave… because now I’ve got another high standard to live up to in my own writing.

The Teleportation Accident is, undoubtedly, one of the strangest books I have ever read. And I’m very glad I had the opportunity to read such a cleverly written piece of work. Well done, Ned. I salute you.