Satin Island by Tom McCarthy

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Satin Island by Tom McCarthy

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Category: Literary Fiction
Rating: 4.5/5
Reviewer: Jill Murphy
Reviewed by Jill Murphy
Summary: This Booker shortlisted novel is short, sharp and funny. It's been called a Kafka for the Google age and we'd say that's about right.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 192 Date: March 2015
Publisher: Jonathan Cape
ISBN: 0224090194

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Shortlisted for the 2015 Man Booker Prize

According to an interview I read with Tom McCarthy, more than half of anthropology graduates now find work with big corporations. Eh? You might say. Don't they all go on to academia and make documentaries for BBC4? Or rush about solving crimes with the FBI? (Bones reference, dears.) What are they doing in commerce?

The central character in Satin Island - U - is one such commercial anthropologist. On the back of some research into rave culture, he's employed by a consultancy firm to add intellectual weight to the reams of reports they write for the development arms of big corporations and the policy-forming departments of national governments. The idea is to come up with the ultimate way to spot and exploit trends. U sets to it with gusto.

But this is the age of big data. Of high speed internet. Of terabytes of data at your fingertips. U's scattergun approach generates more and more information, which has less and less focus. As his report gets further and further from his grasp, his personal life turns disastrous, too...

Ok. Satin Island is a beautiful book. It's a poet's book. You really can't read it without appreciating its lyricism and skill. I'm sure I entered a dream state while reading - well, not quite, but you know what I mean. And it's also poetic in its concentration. Cultural references come thick and fast and it's an absolute joy to unpack them and the associations McCarthy makes as you go along. Satin Island is a short book - under two hundred pages - but it is not a short read.

The general idea is to examine the way in which we are now - via social media and generation of big data - recording every tiny aspect of our lives every single day. Is this useful? Or is it simply a monstrous act of pointless egoism? Will posterity even care?

I don't know. And neither, I think, does U.

Satin Island will be one of those Marmite books. You'll either love it for its beauty and prescience. Or you'll hate it for its perceived pretension. I rather loved it.

We also loved A Spool of Blue Thread by Anne Tyler, which is also on 2015's Booker shortlist. It's a very different book!

Booklists.jpg Satin Island by Tom McCarthy is in the Man Booker Prize 2015.

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