Monday, 3 November 2008

The Müller-Fokker Effect – John Sladek

This was John Sladek’s second and his most experimental novel. Whilst it was rightly hailed by critics as being in the same league as Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse 5 (although I think it is far better than anything Vonnegut ever produced), it is not such an easy read as his other work.

The usual cast of characters is to be found, and the targets of Sladek’s satire are ripe. I know some have criticised him in the past for trying to hit too many in a book, but for me it is a strength of his work. He knows that his readers are intelligent and that if he takes a few well-aimed shots, they are quite capable of seeing all the other absurdities for themselves.

But hidden beneath the satire and the slapstick (the riot at the end is… well… a riot) there is a strong work that focuses on the way in which so much of what goes on in the world is smoke and mirrors. Facades to fool others and, very often, facades to fool ourselves.

Like all his work, this is well written. The prose is concise; he has a great ear for speech, and is one of the few writers I know who can write a convincing party scene with all the comings and goings and snatches of conversation. The story, too, is beautifully structured and pays re-reading as he interlaces scenes and events in such a way that the full picture (and the significance of events early in the book) only becomes apparent toward the end.

Given that the structure and some of the content is ‘experimental’, some people might consider giving this a miss. It would be a shame if they did as it is a truly great book.