U., the narrator of Tom McCarthy’s novel, works for a consultancy company based in London. He is actually an ethnographer so his job is to find patterns in human behaviour which then will be used for projects. One of them has just been won when U. is stuck at Torino airport waiting to fly back to England. The news catch his attention: another oil spill somewhere in the Pacific Ocean, another parachutist crashed due to possible foul play. His thoughts follow traces, spring to something completely different, come back and turn in circles without real aim. Well, actually, there is one aim assigned by his boss: to write THE book. Whatever that means.
This novel is really stunning. On the one hand, we have got no plot at all. Nothing really happens to U. He works for this blurry company without knowing what he is doing. He’s got a girlfriend whom he meets from time to time and another good friend who is seriously ill. And this ominous Koob-Sassen project which is never elaborated. That’s just it. On the other hand, his thoughts meanders between the classic ethnographic literature, Lévi-Strauss and the like, narrating their work and findings and a very sharp observation of his surroundings. Put like this, the novel seems to be a big bore which is not the case at all. Interestingly, it is very difficult to say why you keep on reading, finding it stimulating and following U.’s thoughts albeit the obvious lack of action or red thread. Even though you might find neither oil spills not parachutists especially exciting, what the author makes of it becomes fascinating to read.
Having finished, this novel leaves you behind confused, fascinated and mesmerized. Although you do not know why or how this happened.