This is a novel of globalisation and alienation, set in a world in which electronic communication and understanding is instant, but that between humans remains a mystery.
Arjun, a naive young Indian thinks he is about to achieve the American Dream. He lands a job in the US, but finds he’s signed up for a computing sweatshop. Eventually he breaks out to get his own position at an antiviral software company who promptly make him redundant. He unleashes a virus to get his own back, planning to be the first to come up with the solution and thus get his job back, but it is transmitted worldwide and everything goes horribly wrong.
Interspersed with this main plot and taking over most of the second half of the novel, we we are introduced to two other characters: Guy Swift, a brand marketer who owns a start-up company with no clients and dwindling funding; and Leela Zahir, a Bollywood starlet, adored by Arjun who makes her the face of his virus. Of course the virus cripples Guy’s business plans at the worst possible time. The lives of all three intertwine as the consequences of the viral attack play out.
Arjun, and to a certain extent Leela, appear to be realistic characters, you can’t help but sympathise with Arjun, even if you can’t condone what he did. Both are young and naive; Arjun as number one son has had a sheltered upbringing, and Leela, now 21, has been in the Bollywood business already for years and never experienced normal life. As for Guy, well he is a caricature of the young marketing man who lives and talks jargon, an empty shell fuelled by coke, with a trophy girlfriend and show-off apartment. I didn’t like him at all – but then you’re not meant to, and I didn’t care whether he sank or swam.
I would have liked to have read more about Arjun, particularly after he went on the run, but the author cuts the story off in its prime after 268 pages, inserting a 25 page coda which acts like the credits at the end of the movie Animal House which tells you what all the silly students went on to do. It would have been a much longer book without this device.
I enjoyed the novel and I like Kunzru’s style and confidence in writing about the technology without much technobabble, but given that the world is changing so fast, (it was first published in 2004), I believe that it will date sooner rather than later. Read it now while it’s of its time.
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Source: Own copy. To explore on Amazon UK, please click below:
Transmission by Hari Kunzru