English author Ned Beauman’s new novel, The Teleportation Accident, is a dizzying noirish put-on that races through Berlin, Paris, Hollywood, and Caltech in the 1930s. And, oh, yes, there are Nazis.
What is the origin of your book?
As part of the research for my [first] novel, Boxer, Beetle, I read Mike Davis’s wonderful City of Quartz, a leftist history of Los Angeles. In one of the chapters of that book he happens to juxtapose an account of the plight of the Weimer émigrés in Pacific Palisades with a short portrait of the Caltech rocket scientist, Jack Parsons, and I found it interesting that both those things were going on in Los Angeles at around the same time.
Is the character of Stent Mutton, the crime novelist, based on any writer in particular?
Yes, Stent Mutton is closely based on James M. Cain. The Postman Always Rings Twice is such a visceral and convincing novel that when I read it I assumed Cain himself must have been a self-taught writer with a criminal past. But in the research for this book I came across Cain’s essay, “Paradise,” the first piece of his nonfiction I’d ever read, in which he’s revealed as a sophisticated journalist who’s quite capable of writing multiclause sentences full of irony and sparkle. The vague disappointment that resulted is the basis for the Mutton character.
Did you visit the locations in which your story takes place?
I went to Los Angeles, where I visited the houses of Brecht, Adorn, Mann, and Schoenberg, and did the same long march down Sunset Boulevard that my protagonist does. But I hadn’t been to Berlin when I wrote the early Berlin chapters, which is deliberate, since it wasn’t my intention to depict a plausible 1930s Berlin; I was writing about contemporary East London.
Between this book and your first, you seem to have a fascination with Nazi Germany.
Like Jesus, the Nazis are an inexhaustible imaginative resource, because they represent one of history’s great extremes. We think of them as the most evil thing that’s ever happened so they’re a useful background against which to counterpoise the much more trivial psychological struggles of a few self-interested characters.
Unlike, say, Woody Allen’s Midnight in Paris, you refer to historical figures, but they don’t actually appear in your story.
I’ve made a rule for myself that in my fiction no real historical figure will ever be seen “on stage.” So far the only exception to this has been L.L. Zamenhof, creator of Esperanto, in Boxer, Beetle. Also, I just think it’s more realistic. Most of the Americans in Paris around that time probably wished they were friends with Hemingway, but never met him.
Are you working on another book?
My third novel is called Glow, and it’s a big departure from the first two: almost all of it is set in south London over two weeks in May 2010, and it’s much more of a straightforward thriller.