On the steps of the old mission house, the Sergeant sat with the boy who called himself Robin, and watched a pigeon being swallowed by a pelican.
–Nick Harkaway - Tigerman - c.2014
Lester Ferris has seen a lot and done a lot in his life. A sergeant in the British Army he has more than served his country, and now he has been sent to the island of Mancreu in preparation for his retirement. It is a former British colony and he is to serve as the British representative there. A job that entails doing nothing much. He has actually been instructed to not do anything. Don’t interfere, just be a face there. After all, it is a former colony. Britain has no authority here anymore. And Mancreu is facing destruction, it is the source of a pollution so toxic that no one knows what might happen.
And the unknown is scary for politicians, so the world has decided to blow up the island. Never mind that scientists say that won’t actually have any impact on the problem apart from making it worse.
So Lester is to turn a blind eye to The Fleet that sit off shore with their dodgy dealings, he is to ignore the smuggling and the crime and just be a presence. So he does. But as Lester gets to know the island he gets to know the people too. And one in particular he takes an interest in, a young boy, caught up in comics and films, superheroes and computers. Lester wonders who looks after this boy, and what will happen when the evacuation begins. Could he be a father to the boy?Okay, so I really enjoy Harkaway’s stye of writing. He blends together humour and pop-culture references and emotion so well. One minute you’re laughing over a superhero reference the next he grabs you right in the feels. Some people, I’m sure, will be irritated at the pop culture references and all those little nods to films and superheroes and books, but I really loved them. In a way they are a commentary on those action films and superhero wish-fulfilment fantasies. We all know they can’t really happen, and that if Batman, for example, did exist we’d probably be horrified by his actions. In fiction they are allowable, they are to be cheered on. Here, in Tigerman those ideas are teased at, not worried at. Poked and prodded to make the reader think but never to the detriment of those pop heroes, because they play an important role.
But while memes and social media and computers and all that play an important role in this book, they aren’t at the heart of the story. At the heart of the story is the relationship between Lester and the boy. And it is heartbreaking, and yet one-sided. Or at least, it is for the reader, because Lester is our POV character we can never know what Lester doesn’t, and Lester is filled with doubt about the boy. For him, to step into that role of father is just as big a leap as it is to step into the role of superhero. He wants it, but he fears it too. There are some wonderful descriptions of Lester’s childhood, showing us where some of these doubts come from, but also where that empathy comes from.
Tigerman is a wonderful book. I loved it. It isn’t action packed as Harkaway’s other novels, but it has more reality to it, more emotion. More shades of grey as well, because, lets face it, reality does.