Madness Is Better Than Defeat (Paperback)

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Staff Reviews

I’ve been telling people this book (if, gun to my head, I must compare) reminds me of Catch-22 and season 9 of Archer, the one on the island. Complete with a rogue CIA agent, a fugitive Nazi soldier, a shady branch of the U.S. government, a psychotropic fungus, an ancient Mayan temple and (possibly!!) its resident deities, Beauman’s fourth novel is a time-jumping fever dream of a story. In the 1930s, two separate groups of Americans are impelled to converge on a spit of land in the Honduran jungle, the site of an ancient temple, newly discovered. One, a film crew from Hollywood is trying to shoot a movie called Hearts in Darkness; the other group has been contracted to disassemble the temple, cart it back to New York, and reassemble it there. If the movie’s title wasn’t enough suggestion for you, the Conrad connection is really driven home when these two groups become embroiled in a standoff that lasts twenty years. They form a society, make and break alliances, birth a new generation, but never try to leave. But why has no one come to rescue them? Why do they not try to leave the island on their own? What really guided them here and what is keeping them?

Understand that this is just the barest synopsis—even when you believe you’ve finished peeling narrative layers, you’ll be surprised to find another. The structure of the novel is not only non-linear, but has a cyclical quality and spirals in on itself, thematically and geographically. The characters have a larger-than-life, avatar-like property that nevertheless leaves them seeming possessed of depth and substance: the villains are supremely villainous and there are no heroes. When I finished the book I felt like I’d been holding my breath for ages and had just come up for air.

—Sarah, Longfellow Books

— From Sarah Recommends!


In 1938, two rival expeditions descend on an ancient temple recently discovered in the jungles of Honduras, one intending to shoot a huge Hollywood production on location there, the other to disassemble the temple and ship it back to New York. A seemingly endless stalemate ensues. Twenty years later, a rogue CIA agent sets out to exploit the temple for his own ends, unaware that it is a locus of conspiracies far grander than anyone could ever have guessed.

Shot through with intrigue, ingenuity, and adventure, and showcasing Beauman’s riotous humor, spectacular imagination, and riveting prose, Madness Is Better Than Defeat is a novel without parallel: inventive, anarchic, and delightfully insane.

About the Author

NED BEAUMAN was born in 1985 and studied philosophy at the University of Cambridge. He was included on Granta's 2013 list of the twenty best young British novelists, and his work has been translated into more than ten languages. He lives in London.

Praise For…

“A brilliant comedic commentary on colonialism, capitalism, religious war and violence . . . fueled by Beauman’s gorgeous descriptions and hysterically funny bits.”—Helen Stapinski, The New York Times Book Review

"Reminiscent of the Coen Brothers at their best, Madness Is Better Than Defeat is a strange, brilliant and satisfying trip to a more entertaining version of history."--Jaclyn Fulwood, Shelf Awareness
"Mystery, murder, and mayhem abound in this highly imaginative, devilishly plotted adventure from Granta Best of Young British Writers Beauman."--Barbara Love, Library Journal

"[A] rowdy, thoroughly satisfying literary adventure. . . . Exquisitely comic and absurd, Beauman's imaginative novel brims with the snappy dialogue, vivid scenery, and converging story lines of an old Hollywood classic."--Publishers Weekly (starred review)
"Like an agent of the former British Empire, this book goes all over the world, gets in adventures, and maintains a tone of restraint even in tight spots--with comedic results. Take Graham Greene, add salaciousness and surreality, and you've got the undefeated madness that only Ned Beauman can deliver. A work of globe-trotting imagination, sex, violence and wit, told in an elegant style--an accomplishment that writers will study and readers will delight in."--Atticus Lish, author of Preparation for the Next Life
"Ned Beauman writes sentences so good I want to collect them, except that after a few pages I'm basically just transcribing the book. His newest novel is elegant, witty, precise and often hilarious. I didn't read it so much as savor it, word by word."--Charles Yu, author of How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe
Product Details
ISBN: 9780804172189
ISBN-10: 0804172188
Publisher: Vintage
Publication Date: January 15th, 2019
Pages: 416
Language: English