Satin Island by Tom McCarthy: Book Review


Title: Satin Island
Author: Tom McCarthy
Genre: Fiction, Psychological Fiction

Satin Island is a short book, pages wise, but it cannot be read quickly. I needed time to work out the validity of inferences and conclusions that the book presents. McCarthy’s book was shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize in 2015 and that seemed recommendation enough. A brief glance showed that the language in the book was precise. In books, good language makes up for every other shortcoming and I can read through hundreds of well written pages even when there is no story or plotline.

At the centre of the book is the ethnographer, working for a large corporation and entrusted with the task of compiling the Great Report, which turns out to be inconceivable in its scope and impact on humankind. Closer up, the book is a bundle of observations, analysis and data collection and it comes up with an explanation for every phenomena that happens to find a mention in the pages. The supporting characters and entities are the Koob-Sassen project, of which we know the enormity but not the actual scope, Peyman, the boss in the Corporation, spouting aphorisms that become industry standards, Petr, the cancer stricken friend and Madison, the shadowy girlfriend.

In Satin Island, I found the writing good, the language observant, explaining events and sensations so mundane and yet, elevating them to surreal experiences. The simple micro impressions like waiting for a page to load on a slow internet connection or watching news on TV are transformed to realisations that seem to have a vastly profound meaning in a larger web of happenings that are all supposedly interconnected.

Perhaps, all this does not make sense and that is what the average reader would think, plodding through the pages filled with observations and wisdom with a theory of every little thing that happens in life.

The book does not have an arc of a story. There are a few characters, mostly shadow like, who only serve to be the target of the central chatacter’s ruminations. The feelings can get overwhelming, like the concept of the overarching Great Report that U. is working on.

Quite tellingly, the main character is merely referred to as U, and I got the sneaking suspicion that it means that I am now the object of everything that happens in the book. Y, I dared not ask, because I was carried along the fascinating life of an ethnographer surviving the corporate jungle and his own disconnection from people inspite of him finding connections between everything else.

Verdict
An obfuscate philosophy of everything. Read it for the theories and the wonder of language.

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