Wednesday, 23 August 2017

Tigerman by Nick Harkaway

I enjoyed Nick Harkaway's first book, The Gone-Away World, and really, really loved his second book, Angelmaker. Now I am caught up on all the novels he has written, having picked up Tigerman a while ago, and finally gotten around to reading it. (When I die in a book avalanche, no one will really be surprised.)

Having read it, I'd have to say that it's weirdly closer in feel to The Gone-Away World, and that Angelmaker is still my favourite of his books, but I did enjoy Tigerman quite a lot. It's a weird mix of colonial/post-colonial lassitude mixed with comic books, fatherhood, and international dirty dealing. If Gone-Away World was, in part, about how corporate structures were set up to mean that no one had to take blame for ethically suspect decisions, Tigerman is about how nations might exploit weak spots in international law to do their own dirty deeds.

It all revolves around a question of fatherhood - the last British consul (Lester Ferris) on a doomed island (Mancreu) has made friends with a young teenager, and given that the island is about to be evacuated and nuked, wants to try to adopt the boy when they have to leave. Mancreu is doomed because years of biochemical experiments have been breeding under the island near lava vents, evolving into something that terrifies the world governments, occasionally being released in Capital-C Clouds of gases that do unusual things, although not quite as unusual as the things in The Gone-Away World. The lead scientist on the island warns that nuking will not help the problem and may even exacerbate it, but nuking is a simple-sounding solution for governments that want to make this problem disappear.

Or do they? Given the uncertain state of the island, it's become a convenient parking spot for what has been dubbed The Black Fleet - ships doing shady things in an area that belongs under no national or international law, while different groups debate the fate of the island and islanders. It's convenient, and being convenient, is used. For drugs. For extraordinary rendition. For just about every unsavoury thing you think a government might want convenient deniability around.

Lester is a good man, a former army sergeant, sent to Mancreu to do nothing at all except hold the fort ceremonially. Certainly not to get involved. But when one of his friends on the island is killed right in front of him, urged on by the boy he wants to think of as a son, he dons the mask (and body armour) of Tigerman, to instill fear into the hearts of evil-doers and avenge his friend.

Most of the book is about Lester's desire to be a father to this child he has befriended. It's a dream he holds so closely he hasn't even asked if the boy has parents, because that would feel like rejection and break his heart. His emotions are so submerged under British army discipline that he takes the long way around to every aspect of this question.

Why isn't sonhood a world? Because that's really where the heart of this novel is. We're very clear on Lester's desire to be a father, but what the boy wants, his sonhood, if you will, is a much greater question. Relationships like that are by definition two-sided, and you cannot simply decide to be someone's father and have that be the first and last step. Which Lester knows, but won't act on, less scared of uncertainty than the potential certainty of hearing that the boy already has parents.

This book is less full of whimsy than Harkaway's two previous books, a little less weird, which is not the same as saying not weird at all. It's an entertaining read, and I enjoyed it, but Angelmaker is still my favourite of his books so far.

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