Book Review

Satin Island by Tom McCarthy

U. is a corporate anthropologist.  Working for an unnamed Company (with a capital C), he spends his time collating data and reports on whatever takes his interest – oil spills, the death of a parachutist whose equipment was tampered with – though his ultimate objective is to write the big report of our age, a modern day equivalent to the work done by the likes of famous anthropologists such as Levi-Strauss.

It’s not particularly clear what the Company does – advising businesses and governments, although what they advise on isn’t discussed.  We do know that there is a huge government project under way – the Koob-Sassen Project, although U. never deigns to explain to us what it is.

Sound vague?  That’s because it is, and I imagine that this aspect of Satin Island may put some people off.  This isn’t a novel where things happen:

“events! if you want those, you’d best stop reading now”

U. declares early on.  There is no plot whatsoever.  Rather, we have a snapshot of a man’s life, and we see how most of U.’s days are taken up with mundane thoughts and ideas.  It’s easy to imagine that the days before this account opened were very similar, and that the days following will also continue in the same vein.  It’s fragmented and disjointed – something will be mentioned, but then goes nowhere, only to be picked up again at a later point.  Maybe.

I found the name, or non-name, of the main character intriguing.  U.?  I think that this, along with the limited character development, is deliberate – it’s so unspecific, that U. could be anyone.  It could be YOU.  This could be any one of us, going through our lives, waiting for events to happen, whilst most days are remarkably similar, merging into one another.

I enjoyed Satin Island more than I thought I would, but I didn’t love it.  I nearly bought it when it was first published in March, attracted by the gorgeous cover:


For whatever reason, I didn’t buy it at the time, and I then made the mistake of reading some reviews and went off the idea altogether.  I’m glad I’ve read it now though – I found it to be an original piece of work, and I can see the appeal for the judges of this year’s Man Booker Prize.  That said, I preferred the other short listed titles I’ve read so far (The Fishermen and A Brief History of Seven Killings), and I don’t think that Satin Island will go on to win the prize.


Tom McCarthy, 2015, Satin Island, Jonathan Cape

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