A Forgettable Voyage
[an excerpt from "The World Indoors," Katie Owen's review of Tibor Fischer's Voyage to the End of the Room, The Sunday Telegraph, 7 September 2003, p. 12]
TIBOR FISCHER 's recent scathing attack on Martin Amis's new novel (as "not-knowing-where-to-look bad") is in direct relation to his former admiration for the "lord of the OED". Fischer, like so many of his generation (he is in his early forties), is heavily influenced by Amis's love of wordplay and his preference for style over traditional plot.
Fischer's new book, Voyage to the End of the Room, is governed by a strong and original central conceit - the protagonist, Oceane, never leaves her London flat. Instead she brings the world to her, via satellite and the Internet, and invites stray foreigners to visit. What passes for plot is instigated when she receives three letters from her boyfriend from beyond the grave, directing her to travel to a remote Pacific island to find a fourth missive. She's not tempted, instead hiring a failed ex-mercenary, Audley, to go for her.
Oceane, an appealing mixture of bravado and vulnerability, has strong reasons for abjuring the outdoors, and it is here that Fischer's satirical abilities bite best. Any reader caught up in the recent power cut on the underground will relate to Oceane's criticisms of London as a place where "all the services function as if we were bombed by foreign air forces every day". Fischer is good, too, on mindless bureaucracy, junk mail and the Kafkaesque absurdities of everyday life.
However, Oceane's reminiscences about her time spent working in a sex show in Barcelona are much harder going. She and assorted acquaintances lounge around telling endless shaggy-dog stories, usually involving sex and violence. Fischer is making a philosophical point here - about the arbitrariness of existence - but to mime that arbitrariness in the structure of a novel is alienating.
Under the playful surface, though, there is also much acute observation of human nature. Some of the Amis-like epigrams have more resonance than others - the very last, "Home can never be a place, only a person" is merely banal. Fischer's attack on Amis may prove to be a hostage to fortune - Amis's new book may be bad, but Fischer's is not much more than a curate's egg.
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