Book Review: Machine Man

If you’ve been reading my blog for a while, you’ll know that I’m a huge fan of Max Barry. I’ve reviewed all three of his previous books —Syrup, Jennifer Government and Company — and had the chance to meet him and have him sign my copy of Machine Man at the recent Brisbane Writer’s Festival. So I’m sure it will come as no surprise when I say that I absolutely loved this book.

When scientist Charles Neumann loses a leg in an industrial accident, it’s not a tragedy. It’s an opportunity. Charlie always thought his body could be better. His employer, military contractor Better Future, has the resources he needs to explore a few ideas. So he begins to build parts. Better parts.

Charlie’s prosthetist, Lola, is impressed by his artificial limbs. But some see him as a madman. Others, a product. Or even a weapon.

This is one of those times where I don’t think the jacket copy really does the story justice. Based on this description, I expected to enjoy Machine Man, but I didn’t expect to come to love and empathise with Charlie to the degree I did.

So here’s my version:

When scientist Charles Neumann loses a leg in an industrial accident, all he wants to do is disappear from the world, taking his shame and his top-of-the-line artificial leg with him. Then he falls in love with his prosthetist, Lola,  and realises that losing a limb doesn’t have to be a handicap. With his skills, he can improve his prosthesis until it’s as good as the real thing.

But why stop there? His employer, military contractor Better Future, has the resources for him to build a prosthetic leg that’s even better than the real thing. Then the only question is: Why stop at just one leg?

One of the things I really enjoyed about Machine Man is that throughout the story, everything Charles Neumann does makes sense. There’s never a point where you step back and think, “Woah! That’s crazy, man!” But by the time you get to the end of the book, you realise that somewhere along the way, at some point, something must have gone wrong in Charlie’s head because it’s just insane to chop off perfectly good parts of your own body. Isn’t it?

Machine Man has been described as “gruesomely funny”, and I’d agree with that. It’s also incredibly honest and, at times, quite touching.  And, of course, whatever else it is, Machine Man is a love story. It’s just a classic case of boy meets girl, boy loses girl, boy chops off own limbs to get girl.

This is one of my favourite of Barry’s books, second only to Syrup. I highly recommend it. And, as my parting gift to you, I leave you once again with the book trailer. (If you think this is darkly amusing, you’ll love the book. Trust me.)

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