Electric

Sam Usher is a data technician working in a blacked-out city defined by drugs and dreams. He has come close to death once and would like to try it again. When he meets Candy Strange, he finally gets his chance.

Jonathan Cape. Vintage UK / Random House UK, Australia and New Zealand. Editions Christian Bourgois, translation by Anouk Neuhoff.

Excerpt

 

I was overtaking on the inside when the wheel went up on the metal and I lost control and the car spun out, spinning back across until it slammed into the motorway bridge that had been a long way ahead last time I looked but was now suddenly filling the windscreen. And then, just as fast, the driver's compartment was dusty with snowflakes of breaking glass and an enormous noise of twisting and tearing metal, and the car folded like a paper cup.

The accident backed up traffic for miles. The cop in pursuit hit his siren and started reversing down the shoulder to warn other vehicles but they were already coming to a stop as fast as he could back past them. I was watching my blood pool in the broken wing mirror and feeling the inertia spreading outwards from the crumpled saloon like shock waves, slowing everything down, bringing it all into focus.

I remember the oxygen mask being put over my lace and then everything started to feel smooth and all right. The firemen used the big pneumatic cutters to open the roof and slide me out. The paramedics cut away my clothes and then I was naked in the white sheets, bare and bleeding, and the ambulance was travelling as fast as I had been when I lost my grip on the steering.

When they wheeled me into the hospital I had a split liver and head trauma and a broken right shoulder, arm, elbow and right ankle. I was conscious going into the theatre. I knew I was going to be okay because the worst was over: I was in the clear.

And then someone phoned in the licence plate and registration and traced not my name, Samuel Usher, but the car's owner, my girlfriend, Dr Alice Mills: a resident intensivist at the same hospital where I was being spread out on the operating table like so much meat.

One of the nurses called Alice but she didn't answer the phone, so they sent someone round to find her near comatose in our bed, the onyx side table noisy with powders and prescription drugs she'd signed out herself from the hospital pharmacy.

Of the two of us, Alice was the first to regain consciousness, the first to sober up and realise what had happened. They had discovered what we'd been doing and it was over: her career, us, everything. I took much longer to catch on.

Reviews

"After losing his long-term girlfriend and as a consequence of doing too much booze and drugs, computer-whiz Sam Usher falls in with an oddly glamorous couple in downtown Auckland. The man, Jules, is something of a mystery himself, involved in abstruse mathematics but with diplomatic connections. His lover Candy is a rather more hard-boiled egghead, an expert on chaos theory and the dynamics of water. And it's not long before the three of them start to hang out together, doing drugs the way they do teabags in Coronation Street. Then when Jules is found battered almost to death and in a coma, and Candy does a disappearing act, our gallant cokehead hero sets out to find answers to a few questions that have been bothering him, and that's when the Big Trouble starts. Packed into the last 80 pages of this snappy yarn are enough near-death experiences to last most people a lifetime, if that's not a tautology. While the book may be a bit short on fleshing out its characters, the plot is beautifully paced. Apart from Sam, the sardonic Philip Marlowe of the Antipodes, Jules and Candy remain little more than problems to be solved in this puzzling but satisfying story. Yet satisfying it most definitely is: mystery piles upon mystery with intriguing consistency, though never so as to confuse the reader - merely to baffle him! Electric may be shocking at times (just like the real thing), but it is never less than gripping: it almost makes you want to go to Auckland, and there's no higher praise than that. – (Kirkus UK)

"Electric unveils the disturbing supremacy of digital technology and the equally disturbing infiltration of illicit drugs into everyday society, all within the darkened landscape of a broken metropolis. For Taylor, it's all about the dissolution of personal identity and the crushing anomie of post-modern society, each becoming more unhinged the longer the power remains off." – Wendy Cavenett, HQ, March 2003

"This is a rare and refreshing book. Taylor composes a tricky, teasing plot out of the blackness, revealing a gloomy city where sexy ice queens reveal spines tattooed with tiny equations. The Nick Cave of New Zealand literature." – Claire Harvey, The Australian, April 19 2003

"Set during a summer of endless power cuts, Electric is the weird and occasionally disturbing story of three drifting mathematicians and their tangled world of drug-taking and tormenting numerical theories… The plot seems to unfold in another world where reality is shifting and elusive. Taylor's impressively laconic prose style is enough to maintain the tension of the narrative right up to the end." – Clover Hughes, Observer

"A massive power cut temporarily removed Auckland from civilisation back in 1998. The ensuing confusion appears to have inspired Taylor's latest offering. His setting is a New Zealand you won't see in Lord of the Rings: a city suffering from the same urban malaise as glitzier metropolises on other continents. Our protagonist, Samuel Usher, is a drug addict who supports himself by recovering data from damaged computers. He falls in with a couple of drifters… who occupy themselves with recondite mathematics. But the favoured activity for all three involves powders on polished surfaces. When Jules dies in mysterious circumstances, Usher sets off to find out why… Thematically, Taylor's concerns are twofold: the infinite extent of digitised culture; and the limitless flood of narcotics (not to mention the global industry behind it). Electric looks at what happens when chaos rises up to warp these apparently unassailable worlds. If the characters at times appear to lack autonomy and individuation, that is to be expected from mileus in which the boundaries around personal identity are dissolving in a technological and chemical flux. Don't be put off if this makes the novel sound self-indulgent and academic – it isn't. First and foremost it is an accomplished noir thriller. Taylor has a fine feel for detail, a strong sense of how to build tension and his prose is clear and uncluttered, with mesmeric undertones. Noteworthy contemporary fiction." – Roger Howard, Time Out London (Book of the Week) Jan 22, 2003

"The hypnotic pull of Taylor's story lies in the zigzag dance of its forlorn characters, casting a murky, uneasy sense of doom… a book that offers subtle rewards for conoisseurs of entropy noir." – The Guardian

"Hums with energy… an inventive and intelligent thriller."– GQ

"Dark, intense, fast-paced and perceptive, both noir literary thriller and pulp crime fiction… Cool, surreal and sexy - make it the first book you read in 2003" – Pulp

"Blank, noirish, drugged-up… an intense juxtaposition of big ideas" – Scarlett Thomas, Scotland on Sunday