The Man Booker-shortlisted novelist returns with a labyrinthine novel in which an international hunt begins for the one box missing from the records of time-and-motion pioneer Lillian Gilbreth. Contemporary motion-capture consultant Mark Phocan—along with his collaborators and antagonists—search across geopolitical fault lines and strata of personal and collective history. Meanwhile, work is under way on the blockbuster movie Incarnation, an epic space tragedy.
... like a ghost-written hybrid of a John le Carré thriller, the postmodern philosophy of Jacques Derrida and a sci-fi romp all at the same time ... At one level this is about the choreography of the human body; at another it is—since the studies involve production lines—a horrific vision of how to make humans more efficient, or rather, more like robots...with some wonderful comedy about getting the physics right about a sex scene in zero gravity ... It reads like a parody of Star Wars or Flash Gordon, with a loveable rogue and a haughty princess, and sending these tropes up, McCarthy shows how all these stories contain their own precedents ... McCarthy has, in the old sense of the word, wit ... There is something uplifting about McCarthy’s work. He makes you think and he makes you think things you hadn’t thought before, in stark opposition to the bourgeois novel of manners ... That seems to encapsulate both the cleverness and the prankishness of this most intriguing of contemporary writers.
... remarkable, at times exasperating ... As stuffed with characters and subplots as War and Peace, it’s about the making of nothing less than contemporary reality itself ... the new book’s endless motion-capture sessions produce a sort of counterfeit, denatured mimesis ... McCarthy, a formidably gifted stylist, can tease an uncanny poetry from his findings, but he can also smother us in superfluous technical jargon ... self-enamored pedantry is funny in moderation, but moderation isn’t something McCarthy has ever practiced. As I read, I found myself wondering how important it was to the book’s overall effect that we understand the science behind motion capture at the level of detail he throws at us. It often seems that all McCarthy really wants is for us to understand that he understands it ... the real question might be why McCarthy decided to write a novel at all, and not, say, a magazine article ... McCarthy’s work has begun to harden into a conventionality of its own. He’s repeating himself, in a way that’s often unproductive ... This may be a part of his design, but in a book that addresses the creeping usurpation of the individual by technology it feels like an imaginative deficit. At this point, the most radical and surprising path forward for McCarthy would be to write a novel in which human beings are treated with the same dazzling complexity as ideas.
The unfolding of the plot...is interspersed with complex descriptions of the wind tunnels and motion-capture techniques deployed behind the scenes. These are so meticulously detailed that they take on a hypnotic, almost hallucinatory quality ... The novel, however, does not end with the blinding light of revelation, but a 'blackness neither rays nor traces penetrate' ... The truth is out there: Tom McCarthy has worked his magic once again.