Thursday, 30 June 2011
Sputnik Caledonia by Andrew Crumey
It then jumps forward a few years and sideways a lot into a different universe. Robbie finds himself in a Stalinist version of Scotland, coming to what had been his home town in another life, but turned into the "Installation" - a closed off research facility which no-one ever appears to leave. And it looks like he could become Scotland's first cosmonaut.
This middle section is fantastic. It paints a bleak and sinister picture of the UK under communism; of people trying to lead normal lives while constantly afraid. The characters are very well drawn, including Robbie himself, as as he slowly decides to take a stand
The shift from the first part is really interesting - Robbie as a boy keeps on slipping into vivid daydreams, and at first this section just seems like an extended version of that. Everyone he meets is like a version of someone in his "real life", and The Wizard of Oz is referenced a few times. As well as the preoccupations with space and communism, there's a lot of stuff about sex, and the shift comes right after young Robbie has his first kiss. And although it feels very real, some bits seem like they're in a schoolboy's mind - the plot for instance concerns a black hole which has "entered the solar system" like it was a comet, and the scientists are planning to reach it. Very odd.
All this could've been difficult to pull off, but the author does a fantastic job and I thought it just added to an already convincing story.
The last shorter section jumps again, and this part is less successful. It's certainly not predictable, but it leaves rather too many unanswered questions for my taste. There's some great stuff here as well though, particularly about loss and growing old.
So, this gets a hearty recommendation from me. Crumey's got another book - Mobius Dick - which has a better title than this one at least, so I'll be keeping an eye out for that.