Describing a Nick Harkaway novel never fails to bring a smile to the listener of my rambling reviews. The premise always seems crazy and my enthusiasm excessive.
“Well his first book is kind of a trucker, horror, post-apocalyptic novel that comments on the vile nature of massive corporations while still remaining a funny, entertaining read. Oh, and there are ninjas.”
His first book being, of course, Gone-Away World.
“Then he wrote this book that is like a noir-style mystery and the protagonist has to save the world from the apocalypse. Oh, and there are clockwork bees.”
Angelmaker follows suit in its genre-defying nature, ultimately, and perhaps unintentionally, tipping a hat to Harkaway’s roots: his father is the legendary spy novelist John le Carre.
“The new one is a subtle, existential novel about this regular career officer who takes in this really cool, tech-savvy kid and a superhero exposes a heroin ring and fights the faceless – and all but invisible – presence of evil corporate and government entities. Oh, and it may be the apocalypse.”
Tigerman starts off with a British soldier, recently relieved from duty in the Middle East, and a young boy, a comic-loving local on the island of Mancreau who goes by the name of Robin, as they quietly watch a pelican eat a pigeon who stole its food.
The rest of the citizens of Mancreau aren’t much different from the British soldier and the boy wonder. They passively watch as their island becomes the main port of a fleet of secret, paramilitary black ships. When a corporate facility meltdown breeds bizarre bacteria, the islanders casually watch as bacterial waste causes mysterious side effects. The American, British, and Ukrainian governments play with Mancreau as if it’s a wholly disposable asset, and the islanders go on with their daily lives as if their home isn’t an impending nuclear wasteland. Someone is needed to represent the natives. Someone is needed to stand up to the meddling nations.
Tigerman is a quiet novel. I mean, there are improvised explosives and missiles and massive amounts of drugs in this book. There are bacteria poised to destroy an island and a fleet of ships designed to torture prisoners and harvest organs. Maybe even a couple of riots. But when you peel away the layers you reveal a book about responsibility in the world whose unofficial slogan seems to be, “I’m just doing my job.” It’s a book about saying, “Hey, I don’t think moving everyone from their homes and blowing up this island is going to help.” About saying “I know my government wants me to lay low, but I’m going to create an alternate identity to fight for a people the major powers of the world have decided to exploit and this alternate identity might hurt people with tools designed specifically for fighting large marine predators.” And I think we all can relate to that.
In that Tigerman is filled with gentle wit and quiet restraint, it is a wonderful display of British genre fiction. In that Tigerman often defies categorization and eventually abolishes all restraint with makeshift explosives, it is a Nick Harkaway novel through and through.