Micro-reviews (March 2023)
Posted by Paul Samael on Monday, March 13, 2023 Under: Book reviews
The Anomaly, The Animals In That Country, In A Good Light
The Anomaly by Herve Le Tellier
The Anomaly by Herve Le Tellier
This was a really enjoyable high concept literary thriller. The plot revolves around a duplicate of Air France Flight AF0006 suddenly appearing 3 months after its first version landed in the US - so now there are 2 versions of the same plane and 2 versions of each individual who was on board. How can something so unlikely have happened? This is where the high concept comes in, because it emerges that the most probable explanation is that the world we live in is one of possibly millions of simulations being run by super-intelligent beings for their own amusement. Sounds utterly mad at first but try reading this article and you might change your mind.
Anyway, the first half of the novel introduces us to some of the characters on the plane, whilst dropping in various snippets of information about how something weird seems to have happened in connection with the flight. In lesser hands, the degree of jumping around between characters and the amount of withholding of information could have tended to frustrate the reader - but I certainly found myself quite engaged by all the characters and keen to find out what happens to them (and their doppelgängers). The second half takes us more into the high concept stuff that I’ve outlined above. Here there was potentially a risk that the big ideas overshadow everything else, but again, the novel never loses its focus on how those ideas affect its human characters.
I was particularly impressed with it because Le Tellier is first and foremost a literary author - and in my experience, such writers aren’t always 100% convincing when they tackle sci-fi concepts (see my discussion of recent efforts by Ian McEwan and Kazuo Ishiguro). But Le Tellier does a great job of merging the two. I wonder if this is because the French literary tradition is a bit more comfortable with big ideas - but who knows? I have since read another of his books, Electrico W, and although I enjoyed it, it’s very much more in litfic territory (so don’t go into it expecting something more like The Anomaly).
The Animals in that Country by Laura Jean McKay
This was another one of those books which I felt I should’ve liked based on the blurb (and all the super-enthusiastic 5 star reviews), but didn’t. A virus is on the loose which makes humans think they can understand what animals are saying. It turns out that what animals are saying (or possibly, what the virus makes us think they are saying) is pretty disconcerting. Predictably, society starts to disintegrate as the virus drives people slightly mad and it all seemed to be heading off in a JG Ballard-style post-apocalyptic direction. At first, I quite enjoyed the plain-speaking central character, an alcoholic grandma called Jean, but not enough that I wanted to spend an entire novel with her - and I have to confess I gave up at around the 60% mark. Other reviewers have said that the animal stuff made them think about animals in a new way . And to the author’s credit, she does not anthropomorphise them; there is a strong sense of sharing the planet with beings which are actually quite alien to our way of thinking and with whom meaningful communication is difficult, if not impossible. However, for me, all this would’ve been fine at short story or possibly novella length- an entire novel of it was too much.
In a Good Light by Clare Chambers
Esther works a dead-end job as a waitress whilst also freelancing part-time as an illustrator of children’s books (but not with any great success). She’s also in a relationship with an older man that seems to be going nowhere. We know that something awful happened to her elder brother, Christian, putting him in a wheelchair - and much of the driving force of the narrative is your desire to find out what exactly that was. Various events in the present prompt Esther to start thinking about their upbringing, as children of parents obsessed with helping the less fortunate - and this is where the book really comes into its own with its amusing and well observed depiction of growing up in 1970s and 80s Britain, especially the acute embarrassment of having parents who won’t fork out for e.g. even moderately fashionable clothes for their children etc. Quite a few reviewers have criticised it for implausible plot developments towards the end of the novel, suggesting that it relies too heavily on coincidence. Whilst I can see where they’re coming from, I’m not sure that’s fair - because in fact all the characters from the past who suddenly resurface in the novel’s present have strong and plausible motivations for doing so. Even if you end up disagreeing with me on that, the novel is still well worth reading for the material about Esther and Christian’s childhood (which takes up most of the book). It's a really enjoyable read and whilst it's all done with a fairly light touch, it does tackle some serious issues along the way. I also enjoyed The Editor's Wife and Learning to Swim by the same author.
In : Book reviews
Tags: "the anomaly" "herve le tellier" "the animals in that country" "laura jean mckay" "in a good light" "clare chambers"
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