Some might say that it is wrong to invoke the names of Philip K Dick and [a:Kurt Vonnegut|2778055|Kurt Vonnegut|http://d.gr-assets.com/authors/1357661500p2/2778055.jpg], however I think Gary Shteyngart's imagination, social satire and storytelling are right up there with those two iconic science fiction novelists. I'm also tempted to invoke the "M" word. Masterpiece. I have been engrossed by this book for the last few days - and have picked it up at every opportunity.
The novel blends satire with a moving portrait of two lonely people (Lenny and Eunice) who, against all the odds, discover mutual love. Their love story starts in Rome and concludes in New York. The setting is the near future. A future where the US dollar is plummeting, China is threatening to stop providing the US with financial support, and most people work in either finance or media. People constantly stream information about each other on their "apparati" (a very, very smart 'smart phone') and no one reads books. It's a future where current social trends (social media, a preoccupation with youth, online pornography etc.) have reached their zenith and inform all aspects of daily life. Friends meet in a bar and live stream in the manner of a chat show host, crowbarring in mentions for their sponsors, whilst elsewhere everyone inputs "hotness" ratings for those around them via their "apparati".
This dark and prescient evocation of an all too plausible future would be sufficient to make this a very readable novel however Shteyngart manages some great writing too. The tale is told through Lenny's self-absorbed diary entries and Eunice's honest, simple, immediate - but still insightful - social media exchanges. Two very contrasting - but very distinctive - narrative voices. Here's Lenny describing Eunice's abused mother: "She was pretty, the features economical, the eyes evenly spaced, the nose strong and straight, but seeing her reminded me of approaching a reassembled piece of Greek or Roman pottery. You had to draw out the beauty and elegance of the design, but your eyes kept returning to the seams and the cracks filled with some dark cohesive substance, the missing handles and random pockmarks." Masterly.
There is so much richness and detail to enjoy in this book. Shteyngart manages to make all kinds of amusing, chilling and interesting observations about: this dystopian future; Lenny and Eunice's emotional journey; early 21st century Western culture; and the human condition. It's a compelling, moving, and remarkable book.