“A high-end airport read” – The Anomaly by Hervé Le Tellier

IMG_2022-1-25-095154Let’s start with the conceit, shall we? It’s the conceit that will get you. (Well, the conceit or the prize – if you’re the kind of person that reads a book because it won the Prix Goncourt in 2020, you’ll read this no matter what.) We’ll focus on the conceit all the same: an aeroplane on its way from Paris to New York in March travels through an awful patch of turbulence and lands all safe and sound; three months later, the same aeroplane, with the same people aboard, appears on the old radar and is redirected to an air base. What the hell happened? Is the second plane a copy of the first? Was there a black hole? Are we all in a simulation?

Le Tellier’s book is smart. He has at least explored the science around how this could happen. He writes authoritatively about what is by anyone’s stretch of the imagination a fantastical McGuffin. The Anomaly is, for the most part, a page-turner. You want to find out the what and the how and the where do we go from here.

For the first hundred pages we find ourselves in the company of a group of randoms, all people who endured the turbulence back in March. There is a pop star struggling with his own sexuality in a locale that isn’t, shall we say, as tolerant as some places are. There is an architect dealing with issues on one of his buildings, distracted by his feelings for a young and beautiful woman who, he senses, is growing tired of him. There is a hit man, travelling incognito. There is a man, a pilot no less, dealing with stage 4 cancer. There is a woman whose husband has come back from his latest military stint and who may be up to no good with their young daughter. Plus, there is a scientist who devised a plan in the wake of 9/11 for the unthinkable who gets called upon just as he finally makes his move on someone he likes because, well, the unthinkable has happened.

The Anomaly is quite knowing. At one point, the US President (Trump in all but name) is told that the situation is a bit “Like in the British series Black Mirror, Mister President”. At another, when Blake the hitman is brought face to face with… errr… Blake the hitman, Blake the hitman thinks “this setting wouldn’t be out of place in the series Dexter…” It’s also appealingly excitable, at times, when it gets caught up in all of the theorising:

“Are we living in a time that’s just an illusion, where ever apparent century actually lasts only a fraction of a second in the processor of a gigantic computer? And what does that make death, other than a simple ‘end’ written in a line of code?”

It’s also, unfortunately, a little glib (the preponderance of characters means that you’re only really skating on the surface of characterisation, they are there to serve a purpose – the purpose of difference or diversity, they function as types to generate contrast), a little pleased with itself (and perhaps that is right, there is a good idea, an interesting conceit, at the heart of the book after all) and, in the latter third, when the conceit is established, a little bit of circling the drain in terms of what happens to people when they have been duplicated and are forced to go about their lives. The Anomaly does have an end, though, and it’s quite a good end, and so you do end up feeling like ok, this isn’t a perfect book by any means but there is a certain quality here – even if it’s the quality of a high end airport read – that just about papers over the (as it were) pseudo-intellectual cracks.

Any Cop?: Not without its problems but also not without interest too so a little bit of wobbly fence-sitting on this one. Maybe one for the next long haul flight you plan to take.

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