Love and Other Thought Experiments: Longlisted for the Booker Prize 2020

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Love and Other Thought Experiments: Longlisted for the Booker Prize 2020

Love and Other Thought Experiments: Longlisted for the Booker Prize 2020

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I think part of the problem may have been my reading mood and not getting caught-up by the story meant I didn’t read it in a few days; putting it aside made the flow (which is hard to pick up anyway) vanish completely. This is more the kind of book I would expect to see on The Goldsmiths Prize list, although it is not actually eligible for that prize, so that won’t happen. It seems like readers are increasingly being asked - by publishers, marketers, and prize committees - to embrace new works that are, frankly, not very good.

We have a range of narrators in two different senses: some are not human, others are the “same person” but in a different “realization”.Ward’s ingenious fiction debut stands in a tradition of philosophical fiction: Voltaire’s Candide, Sartre’s Nausea. The novel starts as a heart wrenching tale of modern parenthood, with themes as intimacy, trust and mortality as subject matter, in the Ant. I did enjoy how each chapter initially disorients the reader, and more or less 'pulls the rug out', and how one had to figure out exactly how the pieces are fitting. Each is at least partially an illustration of a philosophical thought experiment which is introduced first, and although there are connections and an overall narrative of sorts, there are numerous inconsistencies and alternative pathways - the reasons for that become clearer towards the end. The second chapter introduces Ali, a Turkish Cypriot boy, and concerns an incident in which he risks death by swimming out to sea to rescue a friend's football.

What follows is a set of connected short stories from numerous perspectives related in some way to this incident; central characters going forward include the ant in question, an artificial intelligence computer, the couple’s grown child, and several other humans. So far so reasonably conventional, but later Rachel asleep becomes convinced that an ant has entered her body via her eye – something the rational scientist Eliza of course refuses to believe and which, in the illogical way many decisions are made in real life to ease relationship tensions, leads Eliza to finally 100% commit to the baby idea.

Many elements of the basic storyline, as well as additional characters like Rachel’s parents or a Cypriot Turkish boy Ali, are retold in different versions as the author probes a number of “thought experiments” on her characters and their interconnected lives. Perhaps you gain clarity into something confounding about the world at large, or maybe you experience a small epiphany about your own life. In the first chapter Rachel and Eliza go to see a psychiatrist to talk about the real or imagined ant in the eye.

I could be a thought experiment, something Eliza has dreamed up to challenge her hardened reasoning. The ant’s narrative describes how its reality intertwined with the host it has infiltrated, about how it begins to feel human emotion as its consciousness begins to meld with Rachel’s. However, this quote does highlight one aspect of the novel, a very human story of a non-traditional extended family and of childhood bereavement (Rachel has a child Arthur via IUI with one of her and Eliza’s friend, himself in a same-sex relationship, leaving Arthur, whose quote this was, with one mother and two fathers after Rachel’s death), and indeed in the early chapters it appears a well-written but relatively normal story in this vein.I simply didn’t care what happened to any of the characters beyond the boy swimming out to sea, and even there the effect might have been more attributable to the simple presentation of an innocent child suddenly in grave danger rather than any particularly deft wording on Ward’s part. I don’t mind that this one didn’t advance to the Booker shortlist, but I am glad that the longlist introduced it to me and I will remember some of the ideas woven into this book for a long time to come. She has a degree in Philosophy and Literature and her PhD at Goldsmiths focused on the use of narrative in philosophy of mind.

From this basic premise, Ward extrapolates: She changes narrators, dives deeper into different characters (not all of them human), and seemingly alters plotlines that have already been established in other chapters. Each chapter begins with a brief description of a famous philosophical argument or thought experiment, and a quotation. Ward introduces the novel as an emotional story about the relationship between two partners, Rachel and Eliza, as they decide to embark on the journey of raising a child together. Each of the ten chapters is themed after a famous thought experiment like the prisoner's dilemma, the philosophical zombie or the ship of Theseus.The core characters are Eliza and Rachel, a couple planning to have a baby assisted by their gay friend Hal. It’s definitely an inventive book, but really feels like it’s missing something vital without a stronger connection between reader and characters. I shall say no more about the Ant so as to avoid spoliers, but this nonhuman consciousness is fascinating and in terms of imagery and metaphor creates a very deep and sophisticated meditation on the nature of life and our connection with that which is other to humanity (and asks is it indeed other to humanity). My Dark Vanessa is the one with the poet I mentioned; of course that book is about consent, but much of the story does revolve around the classes and teachers involved in the MC’s studies. We have multiple times, but also multiple timelines, multiple realities, even multiple versions of the “same” person.



  • Fruugo ID: 258392218-563234582
  • EAN: 764486781913
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