Tom McCarthy: Satin Island


U. is a ‘corporate anthropologist’ who, while working on a giant, epoch-defining project no one really understands, is also tasked with writing the Great Report on our society. But instead, U. spends his days procrastinating meandering through endless buffer-zones of information and becoming obsessed by the images with which the world bombards him on a daily basis: oil spills, African traffic jams, roller-blade processions.

Is there a secret logic holding all these images together? Once cracked, will it unlock the master-meaning of our era? Might it have something to do with dead parachutists in the news? Perhaps; perhaps not.


This is one of those novels that you see lying around the book shop and the cover catches your attention. Multiple times, when it was first released in hardback, I became tempted by the opportunity to read this book. I had never heard of it, I didn’t know what it was about. It was just the array of colours presented to me on the front cover.

I looked around a bit just before I read this book to gain a general understanding of how this novel has imprinted itself upon the world – I found mixed reviews. And truth be told, I cannot doubt those mixed reviews as there are good and bad elements that roll into this novel. You’ll either love it or hate it.

Within the first few pages after picking up the novel to read, I found myself faced with a monotonous narrative voice that felt boring and lacklustre. There was no real flow to the writing as it all melded into one – dialogue and description with no boundaries between the two. A bit like Cormac McCarthy’s ‘The Road’ – the difference being that Tom McCarthy acknowledges the dialogue with ‘he said’ and ‘she said’. Similarly, there were a lot of short and stunted sentences which  added to this monotony and I began to found it hard to trudge through the text without realising that the boring language used highlighted how boring the topic at hand really was. It was also a reflection of our main protagonist who appears bored with his life and easily distracted by the smallest and most mundane of things.

Though this is the case, Tom McCarthy does have a good writing style alongside his ability to write descriptive prose. There was a lot of description and technical words showing the vocabulary and intellect of both writer and protagonist but, at times, this seemed to enhance the monotony as well.

Though the synopsis clearly defines our protagonist as a male, there seems to be some mystery throughout the novel with no defining pronouns to suggest whether they are male or female. The dialogue between the protagonist and the secondary characters gives no hints and it is only around halfway that I believed the protagonist to be female by the sound of their ‘heels’ tapping against the floor. I don’t link heels with men – as most people would. However, it is within the last quarter of the book that we are finally given a clear and definitive reference to the protagonists gender which leads me to question – why be so allusive?

As a whole, I found this book to be mediocre with some good writing and prose. There was more interest towards the end of the novel and a lot of monotony within the first 20-30 pages before the narrative truly began to grab my attention.


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