Familiar: J. Robert Lennon

image-3This book wins the prize for the strangest ending I’ve read in a long time. In fact, I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say that this is the oddest, most unsettling novel I’ve read all year.

The protagonist is an American scientist who, while driving home from a visit to her youngest son’s grave, finds the world has changed, and her too. Her car is different, her body is different – although the same – and she appears to be driving home from a conference related to a job she is unfamiliar with. Her husband is affectionate – which is also new and unexpected. Moreover, her youngest son is still alive. She returns home and tries her best to live out this new life without completely losing it.

Whilst this sounds like mad sci-fi, the delivery is so far from being sensationalising or over the top in any way. Its central conceit – this sudden change in the universe – becomes more to do with everyday human interaction, the depth at which we conduct our relationships, and the relative importance (or not) of our actions. Our main character finds herself in a world that is familiar, but alien, and tries to retrace or guess at the steps that have taken her to this alternative life and personhood – especially regarding her relationship with her sons, both of whom are alive in this world, but also estranged from her. She weighs up the good and the bad – which one is better? is either one better than the other?

This novel is a complex and thoughtful exploration of causation, regret and individuality that entirely eclipses the unlikelihood of its conceit with the brilliance of the writing and subtlety of the narrative. Bizarre. Superb.

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