Set in a near future with ever more concentrated wealth for those at the top of the corporate pyramid and bewildering living costs and debt for everyone else, The Transition is bleak but prescient ... Possibly, though clarifying the Transition's true intentions is not the aim of the novel so much as exploring the psychic fallout from being beholden to the whims of a faceless corporation ... The growing paranoia and destabilizing sense of strangeness in The Transition brings to mind the symbol-rich fictional worlds of the late poet-novelist Denis Johnson. Like Johnson, Kennard escalates the strangeness with the oddness of his comparisons ... That desire to innovate in both content and form and 'pull off something' rather than abide by the rule book for fiction fuels many of the excellent subtle acts of disobedience throughout the novel ... With The Transition, Kennard, like so many poets reinvigorating the expectations of what a work of prose can do, makes a case for resisting narrative conventions as a way to infuse a book with a feverish vitality.
This dystopian Britain of the near future sounds only slightly worse than the one we know ... Kennard, 35, is the author of five poetry collections. His poems can be hilarious but they subtly express moral concerns too; in The Transition, he reins in his absurdist instincts and makes explicit Karl’s decency ... The reader roots for this flawed but sympathetic figure, as he tries to uncover the truth about The Transition and save Genevieve ... The Transition has similarities with Kingsley Amis’s Lucky Jim (1954): both are first novels, written in times of austerity; both feature underachieving male protagonists in unnamed provincial cities; both authors channel their anger into comedy and gripping plots. Occasionally, Kennard’s characters sound like they’re expressing his own views and the novel risks becoming didactic.
Karl, the middle-class British suburbanite at the center of Luke Kennard’s debut novel, The Transition, embodies the anxiety and entrapment of everyday capitalism, the way you can be a critic of commercialism’s abuses even while you can’t help being one of its victims ... And though Kennard is wise enough to know that we, like Karl, are skeptical of the scheme [the Transition] from the start, he ably spaces out the increasingly troubling revelations about the Transition across the novel ... Kennard presents Karl’s enlightenment (and horror) as a kind of intellectual thriller... The Transition itself is unquestionably a menace, but Kennard is strenuously avoiding the more stormclouded rhetoric of dystopian novels like 1984 or even The Handmaid’s Tale... But though the shame in that rightly belongs to the kind of political and commercial interests that would create something like the Transition, we don’t get a clear sense of what those interests look like ... Kennard’s not wrong there; humans do have their flaws. But so do institutions. The best dystopian novels recognize both.
Kennard, an award-winning poet, handles the material of The Transition with a wry humour and a gradually mounting horror, rooted in realistically-depicted characters who find themselves suddenly immersed in a surreal world. Blending early-seventies-vintage success cults with early-oughts start-up culture (think EST meets Facebook), with a healthy dollop of conspiracy paranoia and Stepford-spouses, The Transition is a winning romp that somehow also manages to be a keenly insightful examination of how we live now and how much we are willing to sacrifice in the name of success and comfort.
The growing divide between homeowners and renters, the galloping corporatisation of modern life and the disappearance of middle-class safety nets are the driving forces behind this dystopia in a velvet glove ... his work combines accessibility with formal daring and a twist of surrealism. He brings all these qualities to his novel, along with a jaunty lightness that makes the pages slip by deceptively easily. The book is studded with literary in-jokes... His [Kennard's] dissection of the way contemporary capitalism harnesses every response to it, using rebellion and dissent as fuel for expansion, is all the more chilling for its aspirational flourishes ... But what really makes this novel stand out is not the Black Mirror-style black comedy but the tenderly devastating portrait of mental illness ... The dystopia turns out to be a love story after all.
Balanced uneasily between social satire and dystopian sci-fi, the novel follows Karl’s point of view, with The Transition going progressively from promising and mysterious to menacing … The novel, like The Transition, is somewhat better at moving people toward a goal than knowing what to do with them once they get there. But this, oddly, is one of the book’s charms; Karl is such a fine specimen of a certain character, a sort of hapless but serious — and seriously funny — good guy in the Hugh Grant vein, that his navigating of all the paranoid, conspiratorial material that comes his way is fun to follow even when it goes nowhere … Karl is a perfect exemplar of 21st-century, middle-class anxieties that are at once the result and the handicap of ‘progress.’
Despite careful initial plotting and plenty of compelling character details, Kennard’s imaginative satire begins to unravel as Karl seeks more information — and the destruction of The Transition. Karl’s quixotic detective work prematurely accelerates the end of the novel, though fans of droll English commentary with a dystopian kick will find much to enjoy in this debut novel from an acclaimed British poet ... A scathing romp about late capitalism’s social ills.
Poet Kennard’s sharp, witty debut novel is about a generation who can’t seem to launch themselves into adulthood ... Enlivened by crisp dialogue and Wildean epigrams ('That’s the problem with self-respect...you start to feel offended when someone insults you'), the novel splendidly hums along. Kennard calibrates satire and sentiment, puncturing glib diagnoses of a generation’s shortcomings while producing a nuanced portrait of a marriage as precarious as Karl’s finances.
Equal parts humorous and incisive, The Transition sets Karl Temperly — a thirty-something, underemployed Brit with a master’s in Metaphysical Poetry — against a cadre of social eugenicists operating a government subsidized self-improvement program in the near future … While The Transition does a good job dissecting class conflicts and complaints that will be familiar to many younger readers, it is decidedly about the middle-class situation. Many of the protégés are successful, well-educated individuals who made a few bad decisions. For most, it feels like a subconscious rejection of the privilege bestowed on them by sociopolitical happenstance … Just like the best dystopian fiction—think Animal Farm or Fahrenheit 451—The Transition encourages us to heighten our awareness of and resist forces that push us to act against our best interests.