Literary Saloon
Site of Review.

Trying to meet all your book preview and review needs.

the Best
the Rest
Review Index




to e-mail us:

support the site

buy us books !
Amazon wishlist

In Association with Amazon.com

In association with Amazon.com - UK

In association with Amazon.ca - Canada



the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction


Hari Kunzru

general information | review summaries | our review | links | about the author

To purchase Transmission

Title: Transmission
Author: Hari Kunzru
Genre: Novel
Written: 2004
Length: 276 pages
Availability: Transmission - US
Transmission - UK
Transmission - Canada
Leela - France
Grayday - Deutschland

- Return to top of the page -

Our Assessment:

B+ : entertaining take on our interconnected world, a good read

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
Le Figaro . 1/9/2005 Chritophe Mercier
The Guardian . 29/5/2004 Amit Chaudhuri
The Independent . 5/7/2004 Charles Shaar Murray
Independent on Sunday . 30/5/2004 Christopher Hart
New Statesman A- 31/5/2004 Siddhartha Deb
The NY Times . 17/5/2004 Janet Maslin
The NY Times Book Rev. . 23/5/2004 Walter Kirn
The New Yorker . 28/6/2004 .
Scotland on Sunday A 23/5/2004 Andrew Crumey
The Telegraph A+ 6/6/2004 Carol Ann Duffy
The Telegraph . 7/6/2004 David Robson
The Times A 29/5/2004 Ruth Scurr
TLS . 4/6/2004 Sophie Ratcliffe
USA Today . 7/7/2004 Edward Nawotka
The Washington Post A 20/6/2004 Michael Dirda

  Review Consensus:

  Generally very impressed

  From the Reviews:
  • "Le tour de force c'est de raconter sans jamais perdre le fil directeur du récit, de traiter des destins parallèles, et pourtant mêlés, de ses trois personnages, sans que jamais ceux-ci ne se rencontrent." - Chritophe Mercier, Le Figaro

  • "Kunzru is partly disillusioned and partly beglamoured by the world of technology and magic he writes about. And so he's written, expertly, a successful and intelligent piece of entertainment, a more compelling read, if anything, than his first novel, a book that, to a certain extent, subscribes to and is impelled by the romance of the cyberworld by which its characters are undone." - Amit Chaudhuri, The Guardian

  • "Ultimately, the experience of reading Transmission consists of Kunzru spending almost 300 pages shooting fish in a barrel. But he does so very elegantly, and most of the fish are badly in need of shooting." - Charles Shaar Murray, The Independent

  • "For all its modishness, its finger knowingly on the jittery pulse of our times, Hari Kunzru's second novel is at heart that rather old-fashioned thing, the tale of an Innocent Abroad.(...) The post-modern world is a highly detailed chaos, something which art should convey, not simply mirror. But there is so much to admire in this taut, dense, scintillating novel." - Christopher Hart, Independent on Sunday

  • "For some readers, Kunzru's attention to such weighty issues might detract from a funny and skilful novel. Yet to ignore the passionate concerns that animate Transmission for the sake of its comedy would be to turn Kunzru into a lesser writer. It would reduce what is one of the best novels about globalisation to the rank of irrelevant intensity." - Siddhartha Deb, New Statesman

  • "If Transmission, starts out with an eye for literate social satire that suggests Martin Amis or Zadie Smith, it winds up in a Chuck Palahniuk paranoid daydream of systematic unraveling. All the while Mr. Kunzru manages to be as affectionate as he is gimlet-eyed about his characters." - Janet Maslin, The New York Times

  • "Yes, the tale is cleverly told, and yes, Kunzru's shots at the pseudoscience of "branding" are as stinging as Don DeLillo's recent slaps at the voodoo cult of currency trading, Tom Wolfe's blasts at the 1980's bond market, and so on and so on, but when will this rant stop ? Talk about falling victim to a virus. Those pesky bugs also dwell in novelists' brains. Like an unsaved file on a computer, Transmission dissolves back into random electrons the moment one turns it off." - Walter Kirn, The New York Times Book Review

  • "The insistent trendiness of the novel’s preoccupations risks becoming tiresome, but Kunzru’s engagingly wired prose and agile plotting sweep all before them, as the characters career toward ruin." - The New Yorker

  • "It is often said that there are no really good satirical writers around these days, but in Transmission, Kunzru proves otherwise. The irony is that many of this book’s readers may not, I suspect, appreciate the extent to which they themselves are the target of the satire. (...) That is what this book is all about -- citizenship as a brand, a concept. Kunzru has been vocal in his public condemnation of media treatment of asylum seekers, and Transmission is a brilliant dramatisation of those same concerns. (...) (A) sly comedy that is in reality a deeply subversive and truly important book about some of the most crucial issues facing the world today." - Andrew Crumey, Scotland on Sunday

  • "Rather like early Martin Amis, only nicer, Kunzru combines a satirical comic gift with a cool prose style. And his storytelling is well plotted and compelling. (...) This is one of those increasingly rare books where it would be mean to discuss the plot in a review; it's enough to say that it is very clever and funny, entertaining in a true way, and set in a global village which is a recognisable and shame-making exaggeration of our world today." - Carol Ann Duffy, The Telegraph

  • "As satire, Transmission is genial rather than coruscating. One would have liked to let J.G.Ballard, say, loose on the same material. But Kunzru is an elegant and thoughtful writer, able to give his 21st-century fable a patina of 19th-century literary polish." - David Robson, The Telegraph

  • "Transmission is about the movement of ideas, information, capital, and, above all, people, in a viciously competitive world. (...) Transmission is a relentlessly funny book -it moves seamlessly between slapstick and social satire. It is also a carefully judged, humane, life-affirming intervention in a political debate that has always been fraught and has become yet more vicious since 9/11." - Ruth Scurr, The Times

  • "This sly wit -- together with its longing for the Bollywood "aria", in which you might sing what you feel -- makes Transmission a challenging, sophisticated and enjoyable fiction. (...) (I)t is certainly a novel about sentiment; it thinks about, and works, on touch." - Sophie Ratcliffe, Times Literary Supplement

  • "Kunzru's great skill is his ability to create colorful vignettes about modern life: the geek culture at computer companies; the outrageous ambiance at the world's only six-star hotel (in Dubai). (...) Transmission's trick is being able to deftly jump easily between locales and show how, despite the vast differences between Bombay or Dubai, San Diego or Scotland, rich and poor are interdependent." - Edward Nawotka, USA Today

  • "(U)tterly captivating: a deliciously satirical, humane and very enjoyable novel. (...) Transmission possesses a wonderful lightness, and keeps you rooting for its bumbling hero, wincing at self-obsessed Guy, growing sorry for unfulfilled Gabriella and hoping against hope that Leela can escape her dreadful life -- and her even more dreadful mother" - Michael Dirda, The Washington Post

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

- Return to top of the page -

The complete review's Review:

       Transmission is a global tale, a novel of the contemporary interconnected world which seems to have gotten so much smaller. But despite a superficial appearance of sameness, of an ability to do anything anywhere, Kunzru suggests that while difference may not always rule it generally plays an enormous role (and can make for disastrous side-effects). The book is full of what remains incongruous: a Bollywood film being made in the Scottish highlands, the Desert Creek golf course in Dubai, but in this warping world it's not always obvious who is more at home.
       Transmission tells the story of several characters who are fish out of water, trying to adapt to the new conditions but unable to. Much of the book describes Arjun K. Mehta's rise and fall. He knows his way around computers, but languishes in India with his second-rate college degree and a job that doesn't allow him to utilise his abilities. Opportunity suddenly comes, in the form of a job offer from Databodies, which promises to send him to the US as a computer consultant. It's less of an opportunity than it first appears: it gets him to the land of his dreams, but it's a land that doesn't quite live up to his dreams -- and his job-contract makes him close to an indentured servant of Databodies, hired out -- when jobs are available -- but reaping little reward for himself.
       Eventually he does wind up sub-contracted out into a decent position, at a computer security firm called Virugenix. It's an environment he feels comfortable in, but business isn't so good and after the profit warning comes the downsizing, and Arjun's dream fizzles out. He doesn't take rejection well -- not angrily, but simply incomprehendingly -- and in his desperation tries to prove his worth to the company. How ? By unleashing a computer virus, and then suggesting how to deal with it.
       Neither aspect of his plan goes quite as planned, but his virus, named after a Bollywood film star he adores, Leela Zahir, does wreak considerable havoc, a ripple of effects around the world that illustrates one of the dangers of interconnectivity.
       Among those affected is Guy Swift, head of Tomorrow* (yes, that's an asterisk in the company name). Guy and Tomorrow* are all about vision and image and marketing, about how a company or an industry should present itself. It's all hot air, but on paper at least he's worth a fortune. Except that the lack of revenues is starting to worry some of his backers, and if he doesn't land one of the three accounts he's bidding for he's in trouble. Presentations one and two don't go well (the second, on the golf course in Dubai, a perfect example of worlds gone awry, where Guy's bluster can't cover the fact that he's a fraud and where the completely artificial world created here passes for normality), and so Guy has to pin all his hopes on the third, a concept for the enormous European Union bureaucracy, and specifically the pan-European Border Authority, the frontlines of deciding who gets in and who stays out.
       Things look brighter with regards to the chances of landing this project, but the downward spiral of his life continues. The Leela-virus (which had already affected Guy's work) contributes to his final fall, but his comeuppance comes as no great surprise (except in how appropriate it is).
       A third major plotline is the story of poor Leela herself, an up-and-coming Indian film star, filming on location in Scotland when she becomes even better known for being the inspiration of the computer virus wreaking havoc all around the world. She -- and her co-star, the mob-indebted Rajiv Rana -- aren't at all pleased by the situation. Into this picture also comes Gabrielle Caro, PR person -- and, in this occasionally over-connected novel, girlfriend of Guy Swift.

       The surface tensions of the novel are enjoyable enough -- will they catch Arjun ? will Guy save his company and get the girl ? will Leela go on filming ? -- and Kunzru ties things up nicely (though arguably too neatly) by the end. But it's in the details that the greater pleasures of the text are found: Kunzru writes very well, and many of his descriptions (especially of the Indians) are spot-on. From Arjun's sister, who goes to work for a call centre and takes on an Australian twang and manners, to Leela's domineering mother and the whole Bollywood scene (including Rajiv Rana's mob-connexions), there's a lot that's well done here. Other bits are excellent too, especially modern corporate culture: Arjun's firing (conducted with the assistance of a firing facilitator who holds "a diploma in severance scenario planning") is hilarious, and the inanity that is Tomorrow* is absolutely convincing.
       The style of the book -- quick, hip, funny, perceptive -- makes it an enjoyable read. Still, it's not entirely satisfying: Transmission is a comedy of errors, and many coincidences are too convenient and unlikely, and Kunzru is too often satisfied with being merely cartoonish (though much of this is very funny). Kunzru doesn't do emotion very well, and Leela and her story-line are by far the weakest parts of the book. On the other hand, the computer stuff, much like the corporate stuff, is very well handled.
       Kunzru works his message a bit too hard: the many border-crossings and the convenient cross-cultural conflicts can seem too artificial and forced, the computer virus a tenuous connexion. (The novel is also surprisingly conservative -- and simplistic -- in its moral: globalism ruthlessly crushes his characters, and the implication is that it's not such a good thing.) But to his credit Kunzru has still fashioned an impressive book. He's a very good writer -- the sentences and descriptions impress throughout --, and Transmission is a good light read, ideal airplane or beach fare. (Indeed, Transmission seems to us an ideal example of what popular literature could or should be: accessible, entertaining, and a bit of food for thought. It's mainly froth, but of the solid, satisfying sort, and good fun.)

- Return to top of the page -


Transmission: Reviews: Hari Kunzru: Other books of interest under review:

- Return to top of the page -

About the Author:

       British author Hari Kunzru was born in 1969.

- Return to top of the page -

© 2004-2009 the complete review

Main | the New | the Best | the Rest | Review Index | Links