"There's no one left. Soon I will stop. Soon ..."
Tom McCarthy's second novel, Men In Space, is a masterpiece. A painting on the white wall of a gallery that opens itself layer upon layer as you inspect it.
And there lies its greatest weakness. For it is a novel that by the very nature of reading spans days, weeks, months depending on the speed of the reader.
For whilst a painting can be observed in one glance and then explored whilst remembering the image as a whole, Tom's book fragments into separate satellites that orbit around each other obscuring the overall image.
The reader becomes lost, disorientated.
And as each satellite moves majestically through space following perfectly formed trajectories, under Tom's masterly use of words, the story stays elusive.
"It could be any space. It could be a hospital room, a lecture hall, a street or a sky beside a mountain, like where the saint is in that picture. There's no essential difference: you've got a space, and then a person in it."
Therefore I recommend you get shipwrecked or something and read this book in one go. (Tom helps you here with a clue as to how to read it: There are no chapters.)
I tried reading the last third of the book in a couple of sittings and was then able to see the beauty of the silent interlocking orbits of the satellites that Tom follows.
"-watching it mute gives it a quality it never had originally - a rich, alien feel, as though the characters were living in some kind of outer space."
So what are those satellites?
A stranded astronaut who has no country anymore to bring him home.
Anton Markov: A football referee with connections with Bulgarian gangsters.
Nicholas Boardaman: Anton's flatmate and an art critic
Ivan Manasek: An artist who has to copy a stolen painting
A disorientated Police Agent
Set in central Europe, Tom spins them around a stolen icon painting. And like in Remainder, his first novel, he seems to move them forward and then stops them and walks around them looking at them from different angles as they flay in the cold space of fallen
"So now they're halted, slowed down by this weight she drags behind her like the moon drags all the oceans."
The manner in which Tom does this is astonishing.
If you like your books light and frothy, whilst drinking in Starbucks then stay away.
But if you like your literature to take you past the cake counter and cappuccinos and up through the ceiling in majestic arcs until you reach a space where fictional lives encircle you as you loose yourself to their silent rhythm, then pick it up and step through.
Tom Mccarthy was born in 1969 and lives in London. He has also written TinTin and the Secret of Literature, a non fiction book.
Interview with Tom McCarthy
Article in The Times by Tom McCarthy
Surplus Matter: A site dedicated to Tom's work
Next Month: Two Caravans by Marina Lewycka