Review 2023: Satin Island

I haven’t seen anyone say this when I looked at reviews to try to make sense of Satin Island, but the thought that occurred to me was that after a deadpan beginning, the novel becomes an exercise in Absurdism. If that’s not the actual intent, then I don’t see the point in it, which may be the point.

The narrator, U, is a “corporate anthropologist,” whose job at a large, influential corporation seems to be to observe and connect and deconstruct all activity. He has been tasked by the gnomic head of the corporation—who is known for his aphorisms, most of which seem meaningless, at least to me—to write a report encapsulating everything in contemporary life. This is a task that I immediately thought was impossible, but it takes U two-thirds of the book to figure that out. In the meantime, he spends his time daydreaming about oil spills and parachute deaths.

Aside from his work life, he has one friend, Petr, and an enigmatic lover, Madison. But these characters seem incidental and their parts degenerate into absurdity.

I almost stopped reading this novel several times during the first half, when it seemed to be taking seriously some of its meaningless statements, for example, about the corporation’s logo of a ruined tower, “The first move for any strategy of cultural production . . . must be to liberate things—objects, situations, systems—into uselessness.” At first, U treats such utterances with complete seriousness, but he becomes more cynical.

Later, the reading became easier and there was almost a plot, but eventually the novel just seems to peter out. Despite liking McCarthy’s novel C well enough, I read this novel with a distinct lack of excitement for my Booker Prize project.

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C

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