Transmission by Hari Kunzru


Published: 2005 by Penguin (New Ed)
My copy: Borrowed from the Library where I work

Memorable quote: “When you write code you are in control. You construct a world from first principles, drawing up the axioms that govern it, setting in motion the engines of generation and decay. Even in a computer environment designed by someone else you can relax, safe in the knowledge that you are engaged with a system that runs according to potentially knowable rules. From this perspective the real world possesses the paradoxical quality of not feeling real enough.”

A fast paced, farcical Howards End for the cyber generation, this is the story of three disparate characters and their connected lives. Arjun Mehta is a shy and naive Indian programmer, transported to America on a “slave visa” struggling to deal with profound culture shock and to make his family proud. Leela Zahir is Arjun’s favourite star, a Bollywood sensation with her own personal demons. Finally, Guy Swift is the loathsome head of a trendy UK advertising agency who talks in a string of management clichés while living the debauched New Labour London high-life. The three converge as a computer virus featuring an animated gif of Leela dancing spreads across the internet wreaking havoc and changing lives.

I found this a quick but engaging read and an enjoyably shrewd satire on many aspects of modern society. The first half of the book, which concentrates most on Mehta’s immigration experiences and life in Silicon Valley, is most enjoyable while the second half – dominated by the much more one-dimensional Guy – feels weaker by comparison. The contrasting depth of these two characters made the overall pace of the novel feel quite uneven and the “global village” metaphor that holds the action together felt-over strained at times. But there are some wonderful moments of black comedy dotted throughout and Kunzru’s spiky observations on modern life are enjoyably spot on.

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