Literary reviews by Tim Love.
Warning: Rather than reviews, these are often notes in preparation for reviews that were never finished, or pleas for help with understanding pieces. See Litref Reviews - a rationale for details.

Wednesday, 14 February 2018

"The New World" by Chris Adrian and Eli Horowitz (Granta, 2015)

Chapter 1 begins with "Jim collapsed and died at the hospital where he and Jane both worked", and ends with "they led [Jane] to Jim's body ... and showed her how the Polaris people, whoever they were, had taken away his head". In chapter 2 Jim begins to understand how to live in the Afterlife - choosing his avatar, trying to understand his guide's words. He's told that he has to remember then forget his wife if he's to progress. But suppose she appears? He begins to "live" in a sort of halfway house. To rid himself of memories he decides to write about them then ritually burn the stories.

Meanwhile Jane plans to sue Polaris. She wants Jim's head back. Her lawyer Flanagan tells her not to forget, to stay angry. He disappears. She gets inside the Polaris HQ and thinks she's sabotaged the project, but she's been double-tricked. Nevertheless she seems to become more sympathetic to the organisation.

Meanwhile, Jim fails at the final stage of regeneration because he can't let go of memories. He has to repeat the stage.

Part 2 seems to be in the same time-line as Part 1 was. We're back in the Flanagan era. We learn that Jim secretly signed up for Polaris (cryonics) because he found out that Jane was keeping an affair secret. We learn about their childlessness, the stillborn birth (an echo of Jim's afterlife problem?) Then we go back to the couple's weddings. When they talk about a second wedding I wondered whether they were both in the afterlife. Actually, Jim had a life-threatening accident. They'd married while he was in a coma. When he recovered (his second chance) they married again - when he's awake this time, which echoes when he was told at the start of his afterlife - "You have always been alive ... But now you are awake" (p.8).

The first part was an easy read, entertaining, playing for laughs hoping that it would deepen the emotional impact of other parts of the story, though neither Jim nor Jane seem emotional. The rest added little. The ideas of vows being eternal, that they'll always be together, are repeated, and the possibility that parts 2 and 3 is in the afterlife remains open. The writing is too ordinary though, lacking the ideas that kept the 1st part afloat.

Other reviews

  • Taylor Antrim (Clearly inventive sensibilities are at work here, but the whole proceeding has an improvised, dashed-off quality. Perhaps as a digital experiment, the novel’s flaws wouldn’t have shown. In unforgiving paper and ink, “The New World” feels like two pros playing a minor league game.)
  • Stuart Kelly
  • Kirkus reviews (until the book’s latter two sections, which seem to move backward instead of forward in time, you don’t care enough about any of the novel’s characters to even begin considering its ideas. People do a lot of weeping in this book. Maybe that’s meant to compensate for its lack of emotional depth.)
  • Erik Martiny (The first half of the novel reads as a rather straightforward, first-rate, science fiction novel on a par with novels by the likes of Philip K. Dick. The potential problem with the second and third sections is that their mode of narration differs from the longer novella-sized first part which leads you to expect an action-packed resolution to an exciting, sci-fi thriller. Instead, you are given an uncertain form of closure that is intellectually challenging but not as adrenaline-generating as the first half.)
  • Goodreads

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