Long-listed for the 2020 Booker Prize, this novel takes its premise and inspiration from ten of the best-known thought experiments in philosophy—the what-ifs of philosophical investigation. Married couple Rachel and Eliza are struggling with differing perspectives on a host of issues—including the decision to have a child and Eliza's claim that an ant has crawled into her eye and has taken up residence inside her head.
Ward’s ingenious fiction debut stands in a tradition of philosophical fiction: Voltaire’s Candide, Sartre’s Nausea. It sets out to be intellectually provocative; to tease, vitalise and liberate our thought processes ... the success of Ward’s venture inevitably depends on the quality of the writing. This is often moving, exuberant and sensitive. We care about her characters and share their hopes and fears. Ward’s investigation and practice of empathy is easily the best thing in the book ... Ward exercises gifts of bravura wit and imagination.
This novel had so much potential, which is why its bizarre unraveling felt like a sort of betrayal, like I had been cheated ... it promised interconnected narratives, Murakami-esque surrealism and lesbians in love ... However, this novel revealed itself to actually be an unpleasant smorgasbord of several wildly different texts it was trying to be. Picture Sophie’s World, Cloud Atlas and some arbitrary science fiction novel about artificial intelligence put into a blender, except there are still huge chunks that weren’t blended properly and give you an unpleasant jolt when you accidentally bite into one ... the random interjections of philosophy and artificial intelligence feel jarringly out of place, diluting the novel’s resulting effect into pure frustration and pretentiousness. The rapid and abrupt changes in perspectives between each chapter gave this novel an untethered feeling that made it difficult to connect and empathize with any single character. The characters felt static and the dialogue was stilted and awkward ... Ward is obviously an immensely talented writer who is capable of producing such beautiful prose, but these scintillating gems in the text were not enough for me to ultimately say that I would feel confident recommending, or that I even enjoyed reading, this particular novel, Booker-nominated or not.
intriguing ... The conceptual jumps can feel scattered and forced, but the author’s grasp on the ideas at play effectively and poignantly connects readers with the characters’ grief. For the most part, Ward’s weird experimental meld is effective.