Wednesday, August 24, 2005


Title: Transmission
Author: Hari Kunzru
Publisher: Penguin

Arjun Mehta's parents are filled with joy when they find that he has been snapped up, and is to be flown to America to take on a prime IT role. However when he arrives in the US from India, he has a rude awakening, finding that instead of a lucrative contract he has instead signed a slave contract. One which pretty much takes all the money he might earn one way or the other, and closes off the option of returning to India with financial fines and the shame of returning to his family unfullfilled. Eventually he gets a position with an anti-virus software company, but as things are starting to come together there is a down turn in the market. What can he do to keep his job? Little it seems, till the biggest computer virus ever hits the world.

Transmission is the second novel by Hari Kunzru, following on from his debut The Impressionist. Kunzru was selected as one of Britain's top ten young novelist by Granta magazine in 2003. A selection that is made every ten years, and marked with a special issue of Granta featuring extracts by each of the 10 authors who have been selected. The inclusion of authors like Alan Warner and A.L. Kennedy who I am well familiar with was one of the reasons why I bought that collection. From that i was introduced to Nicola Barker, who has a novel out at the time, and Hari Kunzru, who had an extract from Transmission included. Though from the publication of that collection with the extract, it was another year before the hardback of the novel appeared, and only just recently that Transmission came out in paperback.

Transmission is split into two sections, the bulk of the novel comes under the heading "signal", which comprises something like 270 pages, and the last 20 or so pages act as something of an epilogue called "noise". Signal starts with the release of the virus Leela01, before flashing back to follow the creation of the virus, and the spread of the virus. In doing so it illustrates a certain snapshot of the modern world - Arjun part of the Indian boom in IT, his sister getting a job at a call center where she has to pretend to be Australian, Guy Swift a jingoistic marketing man on the brink, and Leela Zahir the latest star from Bollywood and the woman who inspired a virus.

Transmission is clever and contemporary, showing our dependance on computers and how easily it all could come crashing down. Something Kunzru does with insight and humour. The epilogue is particularly striking, the characters and events coming to a peak in the body of the book, Kunzru offers a neat extrapolation and closure of Transmission. Which demonstrates the novel at its most beautiful - memorable and remarkable and highly recommended.

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