I should possibly have reviewed this novel immediately after finishing Harari’s Homo Deus. In some ways it covers similar ground in that it addresses somewhat the interconnection between data and the way some of us are prepared to give ourselves over to what data apparently reveals about us.
I’m not sure really how I would classify this novel. Science fiction, fantasy, moral allegory, comedy, success, failure? I didn’t particularly enjoy it.
If you could have your major character trait indelibly tattooed on your arm for everyone to see, would you? And if you did, would what was written there make you strive to live up or down to what it said about you? Venter Lowood’s parents apparently believed in the veracity of the epiphany machine and ultimately Venter does, too, and becomes the assistant of the epiphany machine’s operator Adam Lyons.
Told for the most part chronologically from Venter’s point of view, but interspersed with the testimonials collected by Venter, the novel is set in New York and reveals an alternate history of our own times and is intended, I suspect, as a critique of contemporary mores and of American politics and attitudes. It is a coming of age story. Some of my past freshman students in the days when English Departments still offered themes-based courses would have relished pointing out the themes it addresses: self-discovery, conformity and rebellion, the definition of love, loyalty and betrayal, transgression and redemption, and so forth, but it all felt rather comic-book to me. Perhaps I am just too old to enjoy this book. I’m not sure it was written for me.
I found the main character extremely unattractive and unsympathetic. I think Gerrard means me to find him unattractive. I didn’t find the novel entertaining; it strained to be so. The aspect of the work that resonated most closely with me was what happens to Venter’s friend Ismail. I won’t give that away.
As you can see, this post is heavily dependent on “perhaps,” and that dreaded phrase “I think,” which so often suggests a subtext of “well, these are my thoughts; I’m afraid you may disagree with them, but who am I anyway?” The hesitance of my own voice, here, suggests, to me that I found reading this book extremely uncomfortable. Earlier, I suggested the novel “strained” to be entertaining. I sensed the work was grasping towards something and just not quite making it, and though I realise I’m somewhat out of step with other critics here, I ultimately found the work disappointing.