After reading Angelmaker and, now, Tigerman, I'm convinced that Nick Harkaway is probably just the slightest bit insane. Happily, however, this makes his novels incredibly exciting and unpredictable, even when they get a bit uneven and carried away with themselves. Such is the case with Tigerman, which- as is apparently Harkaway's style- is clearly the product of a mind influenced by a variety of genres. A fictional island setting and its doomsday scenario suggest science fiction, but the geopolitical forces at play on Mancreu are all too realistic, giving the book the feel of satire. Then again, there's the not-quite father-son bond that forms the book's emotional core and the mysterious murder that kicks off the plot in earnest, borrowing elements from literary and crime fiction. Though some of the mystery elements function only as (annoyingly) unresolved red herrings, they give the plot its momentum and keep readers hooked on a book that is, at heart, deeply meditative on the topics of love and parenthood. Somewhat surprisingly, the disparate styles come together nicely; that the book never seems at odds with itself is a credit to its author, who keeps it all together with a peculiarly British sensibility that permeates the entire novel. Likewise, the humor, tenderness, and action are rarely out of balance, though the ending is clumsy and feels half-finished.
Nick Harkaway has an incredible ability to draw readers immediately (though not always effortlessly) into the worlds he imagines, creating a satisfactory blend of real-world plausibility and escapism. Tigerman is, despite its sentimental core, a bit of a romp and a bit of a thriller, keeping readers hooked as the island setting's doomsday draws inevitably near and forcing us to ask ourselves, as the residents do, why we bother to stick it out when it is clear that the end is fast approaching. The novel's effectiveness hinges on the vibrancy of its setting, achieved by a lengthy- yet compelling, due in no small part to the author's considerable sense of humor and the very Britishness of it all- piece of exposition at the front. This, coupled with subtle sarcastic jabs, draws readers in and keeps them at ease as the book alternates between styles and themes. Likewise, Harkaway manages to shift effortlessly between moods: action, emotion, and exposition are equally convincing throughout the book. Some of the dialogue, however, gets a bit awkward, particularly when a young teenager uses too much internet slang; even if he did learn much of his English from the Internet (which seems as plausible a source as any), it's occasionally bizarre enough to knock readers right out of the story. Like the book's unsatisfying ending and too-crazy twist- both based on solid concepts, but executed poorly- the boy's speech signifies an author who got just a little to carried away by the thought of his own cleverness.
That cleverness, however, is enough to sustain a largely pleasant reading experience, and most of the book's more implausible elements are nestled among enough realism that the reader simply accepts them. Readers immediately come to care about each of the main characters and, just as importantly, the island they inhabit, under threat from an international community fueled by paranoia that, properly directed and managed, could actually solve the problems it faces (global warming allusion, anyone?). The book has moments of unnecessary cruelty, but it is, at heart, a lot of fun. Harkaway's take on the superhero trope is fueled by pure adrenaline (rendered in fantastic, involved prose) and is, strangely, one of the more plausible takes on the idea that I've encountered in a while. His characters have all of the emotional angst of their litfic counterparts, but are allowed to function in a world that- while slightly contrived- mirrors our own more closely than many of the overwrought New Yorks, LAs, and Midwests conceived by literary darlings. Sure, the book has its dropped plot points and an overwrought plot twist of its own that strains credibility enough that it would completely doom the entire enterprise if it did not show up in the final chapter. Tigerman is, despite all this, at once gripping and nuanced, a fine example genre works' ability to look at life just as seriously as books that are, well, much more serious.