Thursday, 8 December 2016

Three Stories in One - Transmission by Hari Kunzru

4/5 Stars

"Who clicked? Did you click? Were you curious enough to try?" - Hari Kunzru, Transmission

Arjun Mehta is a young Indian man trying to make his way in America who, in a moment of despair, makes a mistake that will change three lives.

Leela is a young woman trapped in the Bollywood film industry by her mother's desires. Arjun's actions will make her infamous.

On paper, Guy Swift is the high-flying owner of a tech company. In reality, he needs to cinch a deal within the next few weeks or his company will lose its funding. Arjun's actions will turn his life upside down.

Transmission is a story that will put the fear of the internet in you, if it isn't already there. In one evening of emotion, Arjun brings the world crashing down to the ground. I knocked a star off in part for the slow beginning, but, to be fair, it was probably necessary. If we hadn't gotten to know Arjun before the event - if we hadn't gotten to know how sweet and naive he is, how desperate he is to succeed - we wouldn't sympathise with him. Kunzru's characters are all deeply flawed: Guy is misogynistic - I don't think he ever looks at a woman without thinking of her as an object - and you would not want to be one of his employees, Chris plays with Arjun's emotions, and Gaby needs change. For me, it was the characters that carried this story. I loved Gaby despite her flaws, and I loved her relationship with Leela even more. Conversely, I was glad to see Guy fall. I found the chapter where Arjun was called into Darryl's office really difficult to read. I think that was the point where I realised that this was no longer just a coursebook for me - I had begun to enjoy the story.

I mentioned a slow, confusing start as part of the reason why it lost a star, the other reason is a case of questionable consent. There is a not overly explicit scene between Arjun and Chris that I found highly uncomfortable because I'm not convinced that Arjun consented to what happened. The aftermath addressed the scene from a cultural perspective - Arjun being from India, and Chris being an American woman - but it never addressed what, for me, was the real problem. However, friends who have also read the book disagree with me on this. It is quite ambiguous. I also questioned Guy, the head of a computer company, clicking on a link in an email from somebody he didn't know. Perhaps this is because of when it was published (2005), but we're all taught not to do this nowadays for the exact reason given in the novel. A supposed tech expert doing it seems a little forced.

Transmission was a brilliant read that linked all of its characters together into a tangled web of email addresses and created an urban legend conspiracy worthy of a thousand internet forums. It's beautifully written, and with so much detail that you can't help but picture the world in your head. I love an ambiguous ending, and this one will leave you guessing and obsessing over the story for a little while.

Who here remembers chain mail? I know it's not the same thing, but the way Arjun basically broke the world reminded me of it. Has anybody read Transmission? Is anyone going to?