Rebecca's Reviews > Satin Island

Satin Island by Tom McCarthy
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bookshelves: booker-shortlisted, read-via-netgalley, style-over-substance

Interesting enough in places, but Booker Prize material? Nah. U. is a corporate anthropologist in London, coming off the success of the Koob–Sassen contract and facing the blank page of the Great Report he’s been tasked with writing. But not much happens here; the book is much more about his anthropological observations and the things he fixates on, like oil spills, a sabotaged parachutist, and Satin Island – a place he encounters in a dream and then, by word association, likens to Staten Island, a destination he doesn’t quite make it to. “Still sitting at my desk and blotter, I looked up at the sky and thought these thoughts,” he notes.

For me the most interesting parts of the novel were about narrative: U.’s friend Petr has terminal cancer, and is saddest about the fact that he won’t be able to tell anyone about the experience of dying. The book opens in Turin airport, and a major ‘event’ of the latter half is his girlfriend Madison telling him about a time she passed through the same airport. It’s a bizarre and unsettling story about attending a protest against capitalism in Genoa, being subject to police beating, then undergoing individual imprisonment and torture lite. And it’s all been forgotten because this took place shortly before 9/11.

But maybe, just maybe, he reasons, somewhere in between these two extremes—in between understanding so completely that an object’s robbed of its allure (on the one hand) and (on the other one) not understanding anything at all—there might be some ‘ambiguous instances’ in which the balance is just right.

I’d like to say the above was my experience of Satin Island, but mostly I found this a bit too clever for its own good. If you’re interested in the historical practice of anthropology, don’t miss Euphoria by Lily King; if you want a better book in which nothing much happens, I recommend Asunder by Chloe Aridjis.
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Reading Progress

September 29, 2014 – Shelved
September 29, 2014 – Shelved as: to-read
September 15, 2015 – Shelved as: booker-shortlisted
October 7, 2015 – Started Reading
October 8, 2015 – Shelved as: read-via-netgalley
October 10, 2015 –
October 11, 2015 – Finished Reading
October 12, 2015 – Shelved as: style-over-substance

Comments Showing 1-7 of 7 (7 new)

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message 1: by Diane S ☔ (new) - added it

Diane S ☔ Had a feeling this would ne the case, have tried in the past to read this author and have never gotten very far. Seems critics love him though.

Rebecca I read C some years back but can't remember a blessed thing about it. This was an easy and moderately enjoyable read, but I wouldn't say you're missing much. I don't really know why this was on the Booker shortlist.

message 3: by Penny (new)

Penny And there was me thinking this was going to be the winner (not that I've read it, just going by what I've heard).

Rebecca Really?! I'd be so surprised if it won. It just doesn't have the weight or importance of several of the others.

message 5: by Joe (new) - rated it 5 stars

Joe M Great review! Something about this odd book hit the right notes for me, but would still be shocked if it won out over A Little Life. Go Hanya!

Rebecca Thanks, Joe. I've often pondered how narrow the divide between a 3-star and a 5-star book is: maybe it has to do with personal connection. I agree A Little Life is unbeatable.

message 7: by David (new) - added it

David I haven't read this yet, but it's the one book on the shortlist I am really interested in. If it is like C (which it seems to be from the reviews I've read), I doubt it will win, but if it's anywhere near as good as Remainder, it would definitely be my pick.

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