Nick Harkaway signing copies of Tigerman at the Hay Festival.

Review of ‘Tigerman’ by Nick Harkaway

ImageThanks to NetGalley and Random House for the ARC of this book.

I have been meaning to read a Nick Harkaway book for years, since I heard his first book ‘The Gone Away World’ featured on Simon Mayo’s radio programme, but somehow I have never quite got around to getting a copy. The covers are always so enticing and his latest novel ‘Tigerman’ is no exception. So I was really pleased to receive an advance reading copy via NetGalley, particularly as I was going to see Harkaway talk about this book at the Hay Festival on Saturday.

I’m not entirely sure what to make of this novel. It’s a curious mishmash of a very literary style and a comic book thriller plot. I found that the juxtaposition of prose and plot style acted to diminish rather than enhance the other. I think there’s probably a really enjoyable and funny thriller hidden inside this book but it is obscured by too many pages of dense description and melancholic inner monologue.

The book follows Sergeant Lester Ferris who is the one remaining British representative on the dying island of Mancreu situated somewhere in the Arabian Sea. Mancreu has been so heavily polluted by a chemical factory that it is scheduled to be destroyed imminently. People are abandoning the island and it has been left with a lawless community and a ‘black fleet’ of corrupt international ships just offshore. After the murder of one of his friends, the sergeant forms an unlikely alliance with a boy whom he wishes to adopt in order to find out why this crime happened.

At first this book seems to be the standard fish out of water story, a familiar tale of a solitary white colonial European man living in an exotic location populated with myths, legends and a motley assemblage of larger than life characters. However, halfway through it takes a very unexpected turn into a comic-book style crime-fighting caper when the Sergeant dons a masks and becomes the eponymous ‘Tigerman’ and sets out to combat the dark criminal forces on the island. Just as I was managing to adjust to this storyline and began to find it interesting, there is another almighty plot twist and a ridiculous, unsatisfying ending.

I found this book very difficult to get into. The two main characters are described as ‘The Sergeant’ and ‘the boy’ rather than using their names; I found this device to be a barrier to making a connection with the characters.

I loved the parts of the book where there is dialogue between Lester and other characters, particularly the American representative, Jed Kershaw. Those scenes are generally very funny; the dialogue is sparkling and witty and is so much more enjoyable than the vast sections of dense description written in a much more serious and contemplative tone. The boy also has a wonderfully amusing way of speaking which is informed by the variety of different international media available to him over the internet. For example, he perpetually describes Lester as ‘full of win’.

The parts of this book with dialogue or extreme comic book action hint at the potential this book had to be a funny, enjoyable read, but in the end I found it didn’t quite come together for me. The characters are not engaging enough in the first part of the book to really care about the outcome for them and I never really felt the required connection with ‘the Sergeant’ to enjoy reading his solemn, troubled inner monologue.

Signed copy of Nick Harkaway's The Gone Away World
Signed copy of Nick Harkaway’s The Gone Away World

However, this has not put me off wanting to read Harkaway’s other books. From his session at the Hay Festival, it was obvious that he is a very intelligent and funny man, so I bought his first two books and got them signed after the sessions. I hope that they place more emphasis on the personal and witty style of writing which was in evidence at some points of ‘Tigerman’.

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