Voyage To the End of the Room: A Novel

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9781582432977: Voyage To the End of the Room: A Novel
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Oceane, successful computer graphics designer and former erotic dancer, likes to travel, but doesn't like to go out; in fact, she never leaves home. She satisfies her wanderlust by bringing the world to her South London flat, using courier, satellite, radio, the Internet, and accommodating globetrotters making virtual visits to Panama, Istanbul, and Tokyo. Her meticulously constructed lifestyle suits her until she receives a letter from an ex-an ex who died ten years ago. She is forced into action and seeks out the help of Audley-failed mercenary, former personal trainer, and proprietor of the Dun Waitin Debt Collection Agency. When the first letter is followed by a string of missives, Oceane has to start searching the world to understand her past.Tibor Fischer's new novel is Robinson Crusoe and Treasure Island updated for the 21st century, weaving from the sex clubs of Barcelona, to the battlefields of Yugoslavia, to the deadly diving of Chuuk Lagoon. Combining his trademark sardonic wit and offbeat imaginative flair, Voyage to the End of the Room is Tibor Fischer in top form: a compelling page-turner that is at once a brilliant and darkly hilarious meditation on a random world; on what you can know, what evil looks like, why ketchup may be among a soldier's most important equipment, and how bubble gum can be used to collect on old debts.

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About the Author:

Tibor Fischer was born in England in 1959 of Hungarian parents. He was educated at Cambridge and has worked as a journalist. In 1993, he was nominated as one of Granta's Best of Young British Novelists. His first novel, Under the Frog, was shortlisted for the Booker Prize and won the Betty Trask Award. He is the author of a collection of stories, Don't Read This Book if You're Stupid, and two other novels, The Collector Collector and The Thought Gang, which has been optioned for a film by Renegade Films. He lives in London.

From The Washington Post:

Those young Brits and their irremediable cleverness. Here's how bad it's gotten: I'm typing with my left hand while my right is gripped in my teeth. It keeps trying to escape and dart onto the keyboard, crabbing and fluttering its fingers from pure muscle memory. It wants to type something.

I'll explain. I'll set my hand free for a moment. Voyage to the End of the Room is a novel that:

Evokes Amis in the style of Martin with the Amis clearly influenced by following in the Amis of Martin bloody Amis help ow Amis . . .

Ouch. And that's how much of a problem it's becoming. Amis is a lodestar for British novelists of a certain age and aspiration, Tibor Fischer among them. Fischer debuted strongly with Under the Frog in 1993, securing a place on Granta's best-young-novelists list, as well as Booker Prize nominations and the celebrity (or at least notice) that attends on hot, young writers in the UK.

High hopes were upon him, and that's often hard. But his career since then has seemed a gripless slide into a certain mordant, gymnastic cleverness -- an art formed of microtuned phrases and adept set-pieces that seem to exist for their own sake, with the story and characters as mere delivery system. This comes from Amis, or rather from following too closely in the young-British cult of Amis, and it's been a dominant trend in British letters for a decade. As brilliant as Fischer is, Voyage to the End of the Room shows that things can't go on like that forever. It's a splat of clay scattered with gem chips -- or, one suspects, literally a collection of very acute ideas from a notebook that Fischer carries around, ideas that looked like they'd be good in a novel, whatever the next one eventually turned out to be about.

Oceane is a thirtyish graphic designer, accidentally rich, who grew estranged from the damp, intense, New Yorkish metropolis that contemporary London has become and decided to stay home and order in, since "London is deliverable." She never leaves her apartment building, even while traveling: A downstairs neighbor sells "vacations" in his own apartment by arranging for Oceane a perfect foreign experience -- such as an evening in Finland, with a dinner of plain fish and potatoes and a couch stocked with a melancholy drunk who tries to pick her up. Oceane gives observations, she ruminesces. That's a very Fischer word: He's a neologician; he balances sentences with cool alacrity; his timing is cadenced. We get small, deliciously direct treatises on the lines used by panhandlers, on how certain professions "have ready admittance. You are lying in bed one afternoon, unemployed, unskilled, unwashed in grotty bedding with no friends, no money and no prospects, and miraculously, by one tiny mental adjustment, you're no longer a zero-contributist, a failurist, you're a poet." And on many other things, and often deliciously. Then a flashback to years earlier, when Oceane lived and worked at a club in Barcelona, doing live sex shows, and the novel hangs there for an eternity. There's a string of unresolved deaths, including a character found crushed on a rooftop under a dead cow. A dead ex-boyfriend writes cryptic letters; another character goes to war in the former Yugoslavia.

And it's all brilliant, until you realize the plot has fallen apart completely, and that Fischer knows it too, yet keeps trying to apply duct tape in the form of another small treatise on human nature, on love, on war or party etiquette -- one more set piece, one more node of cleverness.

Because here's what he's doing: As Oceane tells of herself, of her life and its incongruities and toothsome ironies, with epigrammarian twist lines such as "Writhing about in ecstasy is harder work than you would credit," we keep hearing a voice in her that sounds like Fischer's -- and there are sudden moments in which a soul seems to appear on the page in all bareness, needing to speak from itself to you. (An unaccountable, jarring line from the cool, smooth-miened Oceane: "It's terrifying to think that one day the desire for [good food, music, a good chat] might vanish like the desire to go out. And then I'll have nothing to keep the terror away.") Soon every character has the same voice and is speaking from a similar standpoint, and you realize that Fischer is often writing as an essayist, in plain earnest, yet hiding behind the notion of the Amis-inspired "brilliant novel," with its flashy lines and seamless tone, as a security measure.

He keeps doing things like this: A passage bracketed by section breaks, hanging quite alone in the middle of the page and attributed to no character: "Why is erasing desire seen as so important? If the subjugation of the self is the point of the self what's the point in having a self? It's like someone handing you a leaflet which says throw this leaflet away." If Fischer didn't jot that on a napkin whilst alone at the pub, I'm mistaken. And there's nothing wrong with that, except with Fischer we've seen a career rise and (seemingly) fall in 10 years, packing books with ideas that would be the trove of most authors' lifetimes if they were used sparingly and well -- unpacked and explored rather than held up alone as bangles and sparklies as though to prove, "Here's an idea; this is clever. Here's another one. Isn't this something like you'd see in a brilliant novel? Yes? Well never mind that, here's another. . . . " If Fischer can come up with two or three good ones a year, rather than two or three dozen, he might still have a brilliant career to chart.

Reviewed by Gavin McNett


Copyright 2004, The Washington Post Co. All Rights Reserved.

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Other Popular Editions of the Same Title

9781582432984: Voyage to the End of the Room: A Novel

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ISBN 10:  1582432988 ISBN 13:  9781582432984
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