John Ringer, a physicist, receives an intriguing SMS message on his phone, causing him to remember a past love affair, and sparking an investigation into various strange happenings and coincidences: something very odd is going on and it seems that it might be linked with a new research laboratory which is dabbling with the fundamental structure of the universe that keeps our world separate from alternate parallel ones.
In fact Ringer's story is interspersed with other, at first unrelated, narratives: someone in a hospital with amnesia is being encouraged to write as therapy; a group of psychoanalysts are discussing patients they've treated in a sanatorium in the Alps, and Herman Melville is looking for his ancestors. As the book proceeds, these separate strands draw together, although there's no resolution which explains all at the end.
I wanted to like this book a lot more than I did, but had problems with it: maybe I just didn't pay enough attention but it didn't have the coherence I expected. There was a glowing review by Jonathan Coe on the cover so I thought perhaps all the loose ends would be tied as in, e.g. House of Sleep. As it was, I am not sure I "got" the significance of all that was going on.
There was a passage that reminded me of Tim, where when Ringer tells his girlfriend he doesn't like novels: "What's so difficult about reading a novel?" she asked, following the remark with a mouthful of salad while he paused over his fish and chips. "They bore me," Ringer said. "All those made-up stories about people who never existed. Where are the facts? Where are the ideas? I want a book to give me a window on a new way of thinking; not mirror things I already know."
There were interesting touches though, for example the way that Ringer appears to live in our world, but there is the odd jarring difference, for example his "Q-phone". The book also talks about "The Life and Opinions of the Tomcat Murr" (in which the text is muddled owing to the author's cat having mixed up the pages), and seems to have borrowed from the structure of that book. Actually I am inclined to think that one might be worth a go.
Completed : 13-Jul-2005