NOTed Beauman was on Granta’s list of Britain’s best young novelists once a decade last time, in 2013, and his latest novel makes it clear that, not yet 40, he absolutely deserves a nomination next year too. Full of fun and big ideas, his conceptually clever novels crackle with comedy, alive in the past (his early days, Boxer, Beetleand second novel, The teleportation accidentdealt in different ways with the legacy of Nazism) as with the present (his third novel, Shine, was an ultra-contemporary conspiracy thriller centered in South London). His fifth book, Venomous lumpsuckerimagine an overheated, algorithm-driven near future in which guilty whining about endangered species has led to a global trade in “extinction credits,” awarded by a regulatory body essentially allowing the most wealthy to kill all the flora and fauna they can afford – knowing that tissue samples and genomic data are safely stored in “biobanks” across the planet.
The novel follows two strangers brought together by their vested interest in this niche market. Middle-aged Briton Mark Halyard is ‘an environmental impact coordinator’ for an Indian mining conglomerate, which sold short credits in a bid to game the system to fund its taste for refined foods (in short supply painful, thanks to global warming). ). Karin Resaint is a Swiss-German biologist hired by Halyard to assess the intelligence of fish off Sweden, which Halyard is in the process of blasting. She’s decided that the brains of the venomous lumpsucker, hailing from these waters, earn her a high number of credits, just as market volatility leaves Halyard’s get-rich-quick scheme painfully in the air. His only recourse is to pressure Resaint to downgrade the case, in order to avoid bankruptcy or worse…
So begins a jet-setting adventure through Baltoscandia, as we hop from an Estonian nature reserve to a Finnish labor camp and an offshore community at sea, cutting between the vistas of Halyard and Resaint in a quest tale captivating and talkative with a will-they-won’t-they-shudder. Philosophical and ethical conundrums, involving nothing less than the meaning and merit of life itself, float lightly in their simmering back and forth, and Beauman’s deft characterization makes the pair immediately engaging: “You can’t just be happy? for [him/her/them]?’, people had told Halyard in the past after he admitted deep jealousy or bitterness, but most of the time he viewed the very idea – happy for – as a con artist invented by pasting a preposition where she had absolutely nothing. logical business.
Halyard knows from the start that sex with Resaint isn’t on the cards, which doesn’t stop her from thinking about it, and her desire is uneasy, thanks to her lingering grief for her sister, Frances. , who overdosed on Xanax. in his adolescence.
An introductory note tells us that, for the convenience of the reader, Beauman ignored inflation and pegged the euro to its 2022 value. things will actually unfold,” he wrote, in a typically scintillating stalemate. His mischievous intelligence is felt everywhere. After a pivotal conspiracy cyberattack, we’re told: “Several of the companies involved in digitizing human brains after death had issued statements insisting that their own data centers were still absolutely secure, but a meme of Saudi origin was circulating now”. in which the architects of the Egyptian pyramids used exactly the same language with the pharaohs.
This throwaway line gives a sense of the richness with which Beauman thought through every element of his screenplay. The novel is buzzing with gadgets of all kinds, and above all, we see how they affect daily life: witness the pleasantly excruciating sex scene involving a variety of clothes, including one that allows simultaneous translation, which allows Resaint to connect with a Turkish naturalist. The book’s internationalism is also part of its appeal, heady from the sense that Beauman knows his stuff, whether he’s telling us about a biotech company in Japan, Resaint’s fieldwork in eastern Ukraine, or of the “disappearing peaceful kingdom of Tonga”. (A wickedly satirical post-Brexit subplot features an isolationist UK trapped by failing infrastructure and treated like the personal fiefdom of a tech boss.)
Halyard’s training in the novel’s pre-dystopian past – our present – makes him a figure of elegiac and amusing pathos, but we never doubt his weak venality, and a comically insensitive gain confirms the feeling that he is perhaps the kind of heroes we deserve as a species.