This is probably the least worthwhile review I’ll have written so far. If I hadn’t set myself this possibly ludicrous Booker Prize Longlist challenge, I wouldn’t have bothered reading Transatlantic. People frothed at the mouth so much about his previous novel, Let The Great World Spin, that I couldn’t not read it. And I was so hugely underwhelmed by it, that when this was published to similar frothing, I didn’t care.
But, in for a penny and all that, so when I managed to obtain a copy for next to nothing, I kicked off the Booker challenge, wondering if I’d be won over. I wasn’t, I’m sad to say. There’s something about McCann’s style which disengages me from the action and leaves me cold.
And there’s a lot of action. The book spans many years and miles, starting in 1919 as two aviators try to make the first nonstop flight across the Atlantic. From there it hops forward in time, meditating on identity and history through the generations of a family who are connected to the aviators in the opening chapter. They connect with many more important people over the years (emancipated slaves, senators and the like), refracting their own history through the prism of theirs.
Which is all very admirable and you can’t deny McCann’s vision and scope. But I just didn’t care. I found the characterisation to be alternately twee, shallow, patronising and stereotypical. When almost every line of dialogue makes you roll your eyes, it’s not a good sign. The plot did not engage me so much as irritate me and I was glad when it was all over. An expected disappointment, but a disappointment nonetheless.