Someone I knew in New Zealand once described their impression of the London tube system: ‘The stops all have ridiculous names—Bank, Monument, Piccadilly Circus. It’s like a bloody video game.’ In K.A. McKeagney’s Tubing gaming is no longer an illusion, though nothing as innocuous as a video game either. The premise is undoubtedly refreshing, and the plot twists well crafted and consistently gripping; yet aberrations in characterisation, pace and verbal nuances regrettably reduces the psychological thriller to nothing more than a light read by the beach.
Tubing follows the 28-year-old, decidedly unlikeable Polly as her mundane office existence is thrown into turmoil by a feverish encounter with an uncommonly attractive stranger on her way home one night. Her compulsive forays into the world of ‘tubing’ (sexual assignations via Twitter) is set against the comfortable, yet pathetically uninspiring domestic life that she shares with her surgeon boyfriend Oliver, a life that is increasingly jeopardised by her involvement in literally ‘underground’ activities. And the worst is yet to come…
McKeagney should be credited with creating a chillingly impersonal and suffocating world of London commuters. It seems to parody reality, yet carries a distinct ring of truth. The clandestine business of ‘tubing’, likewise, is disturbing in its nature: no names, no conversation, no strings attached. Polly’s fundamental mistake is to expect something more, and it is for this mistake that she eventually pays.
Fay Weldon’s comment on the novel being a ‘modern-day Looking for Mr Goodbar’ is apt enough, though the comparison also reveals one of Tubing’s chief weaknesses: instead of an irrevocable fall from grace, the heavily drunk Polly with her smudged makeup is already miserable from the very start. As a result, we simply cannot imagine her as ever being competent at work, or loving towards Oliver, or capable of managing her physical health, before the supposed ‘decline’ sets in: all the subsequent sufferings she undergoes are necessarily trivial and anticlimactic.
Despite the book’s saturation with ‘racy’ sex scenes (more often scenes of mutual masturbation), the individual erotic encounters described cannot avoid the curse of repetitiousness especially after several phrases and tropes become severely overused. The first one hundred pages, for this reason, gives the impression of being slightly drawn-out in relation to the breathlessly hasty ending, leaving a few mysteries, such as the true extent of the tubing network, untouched.
Tubing is a thriller with merits and faults. What is undoubted, then, is that it provides sufficient entertainment for anyone who’s ever wondered what is the worst that could happen to them on the London underground.
K. A. McKeagney
Available in Hardcover and Paperback.