Top critical review
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Brilliant, but at the same time it isn't.
on 14 March 2011
In all honesty I really couldn't make up my mind with this book.
The first thing to say about it is that it is a beautifully written novel and Scarlett Thomas is clearly a very intelligent and thoughtful writer. She presents some maths that is complex and methods of coding that I couldn't begin to understand. The characters are intriguing and certainly not your usual bland and cliche recycled personae of many novels. The main character, Alice, is an enigma even though we are hearing from her point of view. In fact she is almost (I stress almost) a Byronic hero. She is intelligent and perceptive, world weary, self critical, anti-establishment and not to mention is troubled by her past. I enjoyed reading about her and enjoyed reading from her perspective. The story itself is also interesting, a novel which questions establishment and to what extent we can trust what we know. I believe it is a book which intends to make you question your own beliefs and I was genuinely hooked by the novel.
And yet... Everything that made this book good also contributed to its flaws. At times there is too much description. Do I really want to read for four pages about what cough medicine the protagonist prefers? And whilst the maths fascinated me I'm sure for many people the amount of time dedicated to describing complex bits of mathematics would just bore others. Yes the characters are interesting, but some seem enigmatic and mysterious when they play no real role in the book. For example I was convinced that the character of Kieran would eventually play a central role, but no. He was just a slightly peculiar person who seemed to float around the novel. This leads me on to the ending of the novel. It felts rushed, almost as if the author were unsure of how to finish the novel. I think I actually felt slightly cheated at having the ends of the novel tied together so quickly.
And then, as many others have said, I felt lectured by the book. I think that at times this novel turned into more of a rant at society. It felt as if Scarlett Thomas was actually judging the readers of the novel. And the there's the feeling I couldn't shake all whilst I was reading this novel - that the reason that there is some many nuggets of information about maths and codes is because she is desperately trying to stop this novel becoming a 'chick-lit'.
As I said, I couldn't decide with this novel. I do however believe it is worth reading this book, it's does provide some interesting concepts and a fascinating story.