Friday, June 20, 2014

2014/19: Tigerman -- Nick Harkaway

He shouted ‘Stop!’ the way people do when something utterly awful is happening and will continue to happen whatever they say. There was no expectation that it would change anything, but it must be said. The human throat could not keep it inside. People said it to bombs and hurricanes and tsunamis and wildfires. The Sergeant had seen video footage, in 2001, of a woman standing on the street bellowing it at the Twin Towers. It never made any difference, and no one expected it to. It was the soul’s voice, in hell. [loc. 835]

Mancreu, a former British colony in the Arabian Sea which has earned the dubious privilege of being the first 'UNO-WHO Interventional Sacrifice Zone, a place so wretchedly polluted that it must be sterilised by fire'. The island is plagued by Discharge Clouds -- spawned by mutant bacteria and toxic waste -- that transform everything they touch, not necessarily for the better. The island's days are numbered; the inhabitants are Leaving (always capitalised) one by one; and in the bay, a 'strange zone of legal limbo' has drawn a mass of unaffiliated shipping, from casinos to floating torture facilities, known as the Black Fleet.

Britain's sole remaining representative in Mancreu is Lester Ferris, better-known as 'the Sergeant'. The Sergeant's job is to do nothing, and be seen to be doing it. His amiable oversight and laissez-faire attitude takes a hit when his friend Shola is gunned down in the bar. The Sergeant is determined -- with the help of his 'kid partner', known only as 'the boy' -- to bring Shola's murderers to justice. The boy is a comics fan, and perhaps it's simply his constant talk of superheroes and cultural icons that sparks the invention of Tigerman.

you were chosen by the tiger[...]! There is no justice, there’s just us! When it is necessary ...’ The boy waved his arms again, now in a gesture which was either movie kung fu or the tricky business of changing costumes in a phone box. ‘When it is necessary: Tigerman!’ [loc. 1366]

Tigerman's adventures (far from heroic) uncover some truly nasty business that's conducted on the island: but his encounter with Bad Jack, who's initially presented as a malicious supernatural being but turns out to be horribly real, is perhaps the most damaging.

It was interesting to read this novel with The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay still fresh in my mind. The comics / fandom culture of Tigerman is eighty years on from that of Kavalier and Clay, and thus more familiar to me: Harkaway peppers his novel with genre references (Hitch-Hiker's Guide, Captain America, Blade Runner, Space Invaders) and scenes that could come straight out of a comic. But there's deeper darker stuff going on here too: one of the themes this novel shares with Kavalier and Clay is that of the father. The Sergeant, having seen what becomes of refugees, would like to adopt the boy, but isn't sure whether the boy has living parents with a better claim. The relationship between the two -- weary soldier and exuberant child -- twists and morphs through the core of the novel.

Possibly that all sounds rather grim. Tigerman is also extremely funny, even when the humour is black as night: and when the boy's riffing on popular culture, there's a deceptively innocent enthusiasm that sparks from the page.
If Pippa Middleton and Megan Fox had announced their intention to marry during a live theatrical production of 50 Shades of Grey starring Benedict Cumberbatch, and then taken off their clothes to reveal their bodies tattooed with the text of the eighth Harry Potter novel, they might just have approached this level of frenzy. But probably not, the boy said, because not everyone liked Benedict Cumberbatch. If you asked the boy, personally, he would say that Robert Downey Jr’s Sherlock Holmes possessed fractionally more win, although no one could replace Basil Rathbone because he was entirely the godhead. [loc. 4457]

1 comment:

  1. I really loved this book. Harkaway is one author I will always pick up, his books are just great.