Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Book review: Men In Space by Tom McCarthy

"Across all these images the words LIFT OFF are flashing. On the main dance floor swathes of young Czechs are holding their arms up. Their index fingers cast small silhouettes onto the screen: hundreds of shadow-fingers pointing upwards, urging the rocket, the sketched saint, the city, the whole country up towards the stratosphere, beyond, out into orbit..."

Recently when you think of Tom McCarthy you think of 'C' and this also sparks off another c for clever. Not just for the plot, which weaves together to create a story that pulls together several characters against the backdrop of a fragmented Eastern Europe.

Describing the story makes it sound extremely simple but in reality its a clot more complex than just a case of criminals asking an art dealer to copy a stolen painting so they can sell it off.

As an astronaut trapped in space while the former USSR countries fight out who's responsibility it is to bring him back the characters on the ground struggle to work out what freedom in a former Communist state means for them.

It means drugs, art and pushing boundaries but it almost means that there will be those happy to take advantage of it both in terms of criminals and those in the state who have been institutionalized into abusing their power.

As the consequences of freedom filter through, with the former state policeman abandoned to the static he hears after years of surveillance, the artist who gets lost in his own drug fueled visions and the criminals who turn on themselves after failure, it's clear life is not easy under a new regime.

McCarthy clearly knows his art describing an artistic scene in great detail. Central as a link is the icon which depicts the holy one hanging above the sea and land. That man in space also keeps those around him in limbo as the stolen art work goes from criminal to artist back unwittingly to artist.

The detailed story of the icon painting is a metaphor for what is happening more widely across the country as people come to terms with what is happening post Communism. The sense of uncertianty provides some freedoms, and those drinking the millennium in are taking advantage of some of those, but it also ushers in a sense of uncertianty.

Do the old rules still apply? With those in power still trying to hold onto their positions and abuse the back channels they have always had access to it's no surprise that those people continue to do that.

What remains apart from the hope that things will be changed is the brutality. Death still comes at the end of a gun swiftly and with little regard for the individual whether or not the trigger is pulled by the criminal or the policeman.

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