The reviews are coming in, and especially this one by David Annand in TLS makes Ned Beauman’s new book look worthy of this moment in human history:
A tale of capitalism, penance and species extinction
In the 1980s the American literary critic Tom LeClair identified what he called the “systems novel”, a genre of fiction concerned with the characters, acts and situations of the conventional novel while simultaneously speculating on the complex social structures – economic, sexual, ideological – that underpin the realities of those characters. LeClair was talking in the first instance about Don DeLillo (see In the Loop: Don DeLillo and the systems novel, 1988), but the label has since been applied to Thomas Pynchon, Jonathan Franzen, Margaret Atwood and other writers whose work looks to dramatize the collision points of society’s many systems, from the nuclear family to nuclear threat.
Ned Beauman’s work sits slightly adjacent to this body of work. Certainly, he has always been concerned with the grand sweep of history, its parallels and patterns, but one gets the sense that he is suspicious of attempts to grasp it all, to alight on a definitive reading. His books are too impish to be classified as systems novels: they range too gleefully in and out of genres, delight too readily in paradox, exult in arcane knowledge as an end in itself and find too much joy in coincidence and unexpected comedy.
In his first two books, Boxer, Beetle (2010) and The Teleportation Accident (2012), Beauman romped all over the place, collapsing time and pulling together seemingly unrelated phenomena. In the subsequent Glow (2014) and Madness Is Better Than Defeat (2017), his focus narrowed considerably (to, respectively, a drug-addled London and a late-1930s Honduras, by way of Hollywood), and this process is continued in his new novel, Venomous Lumpsucker, which has in its sights a single, if weighty, phenomenon: mass extinction.
Set in the near future, the novel imagines an environmentally degraded Europe relentlessly exploited by transnational corporations adept at manipulating environmental legislation. Unsurprisingly, life on earth is much diminished. Corrosive waters and searing heat mean that the little food that still grows tastes abysmal. The UK has withdrawn so far into itself that it is now known as the Hermit Kingdom, and the US is such an embarrassment that no one talks about it in polite company.
But the global population is still capable of spasms of self-reproach, such as the one that follows the death of Chiu Chiu, the last of the giant pandas…
Read the whole review here.