Sputnik Caledonia by Andrew Crumey has been blasting its orbit (sorry) around the literary pages and the blogs creating a steady slipstream of praise and adulation wherever it enters the atmosphere, but nothing had really convinced me to read it because I had it down in my mind as a 'boy's book'.
I'm not sure why, but as it started to creep into everyone's choices for Booker fame I decided to steal a march just in case. Mistakenly, in fact I was probably the kiss of death to its chances, but without that I might never have read it and that would have been remiss.
I'm seeing it as a boy's own version of The Handmaid's Tale with added extras including a delightful first section of the book about a little wee Scot's boy called Robbie with a vast and vivid imagination.
Robbie can exclude the reality of day to day life and escape into his imagination where he's training to be a cosmonaut. I know a little boy just like that, he's a gamekeeper now but he spent a long time being the Lone Ranger and one of us always had to be Tonto.
We're sure that year of wearing the mask did for his eyes.
I was as happy as larry in Robbie's childhood world and felt a bit disgruntled at the beginning of Part Two to find that Robbie was now suddenly and seemingly overnight, a young adult. Even more unsettled to be plunged into a strangely post-apocalyptic dystopian world, The Installation where every effort is being made to communicate with Black Holes... possibly.
I say possibly because the book delves deeply into the world of Physics and I definitely didn't pay enough attention at school, something about Physics made me lose the will to live, but that said I was keeping up nicely with Sputnik Caledonia, whilst longing for a return to the world of Robbie the child snug in his space capsule under the kitchen sink.
I think that might just be part of the point, there can be no return to childhood dreams and living them may not be quite the fun we imagine.
Anyone who has read The Handmaid's Tale will be entirely familiar with the seemingly dystopian framework of this book, the world that has glimmers of familiarity, the world that
' isolates certain social trends and then exaggerates them to emphasis the negatives.'
That quote may or may not be mine but comes from notes made on my
third reading of (in my humble opinion) one of Margaret Atwood's finest novels and dated 13th
September 2001, the significance of that reading no doubt intensified
by world events just two days earlIer.
Andrew Crumey uses a clever technique to ground and embellish the elements of familiarity in Robbie's next life at The Installation and this adds hugely to the read as I spotted the elements of his childhood apparently remote but still in the air.
I'm not making much sense because I was still reading in the dark, but it's trust the author time, so hold off any disappointment because what follows is clever beyond words.
Nor did I second-guess and I wonder if anyone honestly has?
Nothing but nothing prepared me for what was really going on and when that was finally revealed I was dumbfounded at the brilliance of Andrew Crumey's plotting. Just as The Handmaid's Tale packs that last punch so too does Sputnik Caledonia.
A remarkable punch I thought and a book I'm so glad I didn't miss.