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Love and Other Thought Experiments: Longlisted for the Booker Prize 2020

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The more the story of the little family progresses, shifts and morphs, the more the topic of artificial intelligence takes center stage, questioning the nature of the future a. Eliza, her partner, does not believe her, though she decides to lie for the sake of preserving their relationship. The consequence of that was that when it re-appeared, I also ignored it and didn’t see the linkage until very late in the book.

This collection of scattered but interconnected short stories across which its various characters interact and intersect in their various paths, seem to all revolve around the same central questions: what is life? Everything after that is complicated, as we have one chapter narrated by the ant, which is nibbling away on Rachel’s tumour and we have Arthur who becomes an astronaut flying missions to Mars.The story follows a young couple, Rachel and Eliza, who are contemplating the next stage of their relationship. For readers innocent of philosophical terminology, a prelude explains: “Thought experiments are devices of the imagination used to investigate the nature of things. Rachel Cusk ( “A life’s work” a book she alternately snarled at and wept into” (119), Borges, Anthony Trollope and Charles Dickens among them. The ant’s narrative describes how its reality intertwined with the host it has infiltrated, about how it begins to feel human emotion as its consciousness begins to meld with Rachel’s.

I think part of the problem may have been my reading mood and not getting caught-up by the story meant I didn’t read it in a few days; putting it aside made the flow (which is hard to pick up anyway) vanish completely. I read a lot, but not much of what I read are books that appear on Booker Prize Long Lists (or win Booker Prizes). Ward’s ingenious fiction debut stands in a tradition of philosophical fiction: Voltaire’s Candide, Sartre’s Nausea. Ward's book constantly makes reference - both explicitly and obliquely - to other works, and if one HASNT read those, one feels rather out of the loop. In one version, as a young adult, he meets Elizabeth, an English tourist, who is the subject of the next chapter in which she is Rachel's mother, living in retirement in Brazil.I won't give this 5 stars because I am not clever enough to fully understand the philosophical musings at the start of each chapter and whilst I enjoyed to a point, trying to understand their significance I was ultimately slightly frustrated by that. I'm going to have to read this book again at some point because I fear in my enthusiasm for it I might have rushed it. We begin the book with Eliza and Rachel, a gay couple who decide to start a family with the help of a friend. She is convinced that this was not just a dream — that there is literally an ant inside of her skull.

And, I could se where all of this is going as the links between the stories are more or less evident. There are a few LGBTQ+ characters included at the forefront of the cast, but they seem to exist naturally and without identity-based conflict in this world, thus failing to generate any social commentary; I think it’s very important for marginalized characters to be present in books this way, as people worth the page space without having to examine their lives for the reader’s benefit, but again it doesn’t exactly help one connect to or feel for these characters. On another, it’s a sandbox of philosophical ideas ranging from free will and the nature of consciousness, to the limits of human experience. The central conceit and structure of the novel is set up from the opening dialogue – between a couple: Rachel and Eliza(beth) where the two discuss thought experiments and Rachel demands to be in one.I have learned this year that I am a reader who can love a book for a great format despite the content itself not quite winning me over (see: Trust Exercise and The Man Who Saw Everything), but even for me the ‘love’ portion of Love and Other Thought Experiments falling lax proved an insurmountable obstacle. It's quite impressive how it can be so deceptively simple and yet exceedingly complex in terms of narrative structure and themes. I've only just finished reading this and don't feel I can adequately explain my feelings about this book. We have a range of narrators in two different senses: some are not human, others are the “same person” but in a different “realization”.

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