Author Nick Harkaway is no novice to bestsellers in his unique genre. Critics have had a hard time placing this inventive, witty and creative almost-sci-fi, philosophical, action/adventure writer in a niche with his genre-bending ANGELMAKER and THE GONE-AWAY WORLD. I daresay that TIGERMAN lives up to his unique approach to fly in the face of pigeonholing his work. Pity the bookseller who has to find the right place to shelve this one.
The Boy, a street-wise, homeless kid who may or may not be an orphan, dwells on the British colonial backwater island of Mancreu off the coast of Yemen in the Arabian Sea. The island, made up of a gas-belching volcano emitting noxious fumes caused by chemical experiments by an unnamed company endangering the lives of its rapidly dwindling inhabitants, is about to erupt. The stalwart remaining citizens are leaving on a regular basis, and the only rule of law is an out-of-favor British sergeant who refers to himself as “Sergeant.” He is about to retire and has been sent to run the abandoned British Embassy to fill out his final few months of service in order to collect his pension. His sole assignment is to keep order as civility breaks down, as well as oversee the final evacuation of the population before the island is destroyed by a lethal combination created by man and nature.
"[T]his brilliantly conceived plot is good for an entertaining, action-packed weekend sit-down.... This is my first exposure to the British-born Harkaway, but it won’t be my last."
The Boy lives in a fantasy world of comic book heroes, viewing the Sergeant as a superhero who somehow will come to the rescue of his home. The Sergeant, being a mere mortal who is just trying to keep it together until he can pack his kit and retire somewhere peaceful, is perhaps the most reluctant hero one can imagine as he deals with the remaining stubborn island dwellers.
Harkaway has created an eccentric, amusing and beguiling cast of characters who deal with the poisonous gas clouds, food shortages and mysterious comings and goings of visitors to the Black Fleet, a consortium of large ships that are clustered just outside the three-mile limit of Mancreau. Only The Boy has permission to motor a small supply boat to and from the ships with supplies, and only he seems to be in touch with the powers-that-be who hold the island’s future in their hands.
To say any more would be a rotten spoiler, but this brilliantly conceived plot is good for an entertaining, action-packed weekend sit-down. It verges on a YA (Young Adult) level, but a caveat to the under-15 crowd: One of the main characters can barely exhale without emitting noxiously ripe language, which is at once profane, funny, and perhaps the most creative use of the dreaded “F” word in the verb, noun and adjective form to be found anywhere.
This is my first exposure to the British-born Harkaway, but it won’t be my last. I’ve already downloaded ANGELMAKER to see what all the hype in the Wall Street Journal, the Guardian and Booklist has been about. Especially after he was also compared to Pynchon, Pratchett, Vonnegut and Heller in a jacket blurb. Who can resist that?
Reviewed by Roz Shea on September 26, 2014