tJacksonrichards's Reviews > Satin Island

Satin Island by Tom McCarthy
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I saw McCarthy speak at the NYC Center for Fiction just a few hours after I finished reading this book. My first of his novels, I was initially attracted by its ubiquitous categorization as avant-garde fiction and then further intrigued by its many comparisons to DeLillo.

True to the latter descriptor, Satin Island often reminded me of DeLillo's vision of the Warren Report (apropos Libra) as "the Oxford English Dictionary of the assassination and also the Joycean novel." This link was corroborated when, at the speaking engagement, McCarthy referenced DeLillo's claim (in Mao II) that 'the world narrative belongs to terrorists now more than novelists' as thematic inspiration to Satin Island. But in this book, McCarthy explained, he updates 'terrorists' with the idea of 'the network'. In other words, he's asserting that the role of the novelist has been usurped by nebulous, unaccountable powers.

In so doing, Satin Island closes the book on a school of writers (Wallace, Smith etc) who cut their academic teeth on Critical Theory (Barthes, Derrida, Foucault, semiotics, post-structuralism etc) by showing these once radical ideas subsumed into the machinery of capitalism; Theory is no longer an unreciprocated tool of the humanities. And so we wait - in buffer, in limbo - for a path forward. This is the book's most provocative implication.

While structurally clever and tonally commanding, Satin Island is in no way difficult, oblique or formally radical. So rather than avant-garde, it is profoundly contemporary by design. And if it lacks the emotional or aesthetic impression of a truly great novel - it has a lot more head than (he)art - then the ideas herein are still of lasting import, declaring the end of an era and standing as a significant challenge to new writers and thinkers.
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Reading Progress

March 22, 2015 – Shelved
March 22, 2015 – Shelved as: to-read
April 2, 2015 – Started Reading
April 3, 2015 – Finished Reading

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Benjaminisreading Great review - the additional color from McCarthy was hugely helpful for me.


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