I didn’t hate it.
I wish I could be satisfied by saying just that, but of course this statement calls for some explanation.
Tom McCarthy is noted as being the general secretary of the International Necronautical Society (INS), “a semi-fictitious avant-garde network,” which I’ll leave you to examine on your own. I haven’t read his other novels, so I dipped my toes, or at least tried to dip my toes, into Satin Island not totally knowing what to expect.
The narrator, identified only as U., works as an anthropologist for a corporation. I was impressed by this position, as it transforms the science of marketing and advertising into something more humane. This, and a brief narrative storytelling by a lover? fling? Madison, were the two facets of this novel I felt satisfied my literary and intellectual desires.
U. is working on a project that entails…what? You know that point in a novel where you break through the surface and are submerged into the webs of meaning? During Satin Island, I felt always suspended just above that breaking point; my toes never broke the surface of any meaning whatsoever and I just felt hollow. U.’s thoughts were so disjointed that I couldn’t even collect enough interest to think about the ways in which the disjointed pieces may have connected – because they must, right? It must make sense in some way? Or maybe it’s too complicated to make perfect sense.
This reinstated the fact that I am not learned enough (or interested enough) in philosophy, and with this first read of Satin Island, I could not get into the avant-garde idealism; I’m not even sure it counts as avant-garde, truthfully. My mind is just jumbled, and I feel a little immature. That sentence right there is why I say: I didn’t hate this book. Sometimes, among reading our favorite genres and dependable classics, a book comes along and tears down your safety net and your vulnerabilities as a reader, thinker, and human are out in the open. But this means you can build a tougher skin, and more involved brain, and be more generally and deeply aware of different ideas in the pages of books and in the real world. So I appreciate Satin Island for the challenge it has presented me; or rather, how it has challenged a particular laziness in my book selections. Sometimes that’s enough to get out of a book, at least for the first read-through.
The prevailing wisdom was that you had to gather everything: a hammer or a pair of scissors might tell you as much about a culture as a sacred fetish – suddenly release its inner secrets, like some codex.¹
¹Tom McCarthy, p. 104
Tom McCarthy, Satin Island (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2015)