I picked up a copy of “The Anomaly” by Hervé le Tellier at our local bookshop on the basis of
rave reviews and touted best-seller status (“more than a million copies sold world-wide”!) I
should have known better. It turned out to be what’s known in the lit biz as a “novel of
ideas”—look it up if you care to—too clever by half for its own good and, in my own opinion,
much too “French” (with a pause to apologize to mes amies and mes amis).
Okay, please overlook the scare quotes, the parentheses, the elliptical asides. My own version
of too clever by half. But I did actually dislike this book quite a lot, and dislike is always a good
reason for me to start writing. I’d describe is as a meta-novel, given that, in part, it’s a novel
about someone supposedly writing a novel called “The Anomaly.” (I would not want to read
that one, either). The anomaly in question is the story of an Air France flight from Paris to New
York which encounters a meteorological supercell so intense as to cause a “divergence” in
which the plane, along with all its passengers and crew, duplicate themselves, one reaching the
other side of the Atlantic three months later than the first.
An ”interesting” premise, for sure. An intriguing idea. But from there we descend into a
complication of characters who, for me, are devoid of both interest and humanity. They read
like “ideas” of people, useful to the author in pursuit of his big “idea”, rather than actual,
engaging human beings. Perhaps this is appropriate, because while they start out as sketchy
human beings they rapidly turn out, with their others, into what our rapidly (and so secretly!
National security is at stake!) assembled team of scientists begin to call “simulations.”
Oh, dear. The FBI gets involved, along with all the other super-efficient American security
experts. Arrests are made, for top security reasons, of members of the flight that landed three
months earlier, who are cheerfully (or miserably) going on with their lives. Passengers and crew
of the second arriving flight are immediately quarantined (in deadly secret, of course) in the
vast hanger of a US Air Force base. The President of the United States is informed. Teams of the
most brilliant top scientists and psychologists are assembled. Leaders from every major
religion—rabbis (conservative and reform), archbishops, prelates, imams—are brought
together (in secret!) to discuss the deep religious implications of the event. Interviews are held.
Arrangements are made for the victims of this fictional plot to meet their others. Somehow
they must learn to get on with their lives. Some do. Some don’t.
Meanwhile, as news leaks out, the media become involved. We are privileged to participate in
endless discussions of the meaning of the anomaly from the literary,
philosophical—epistemology! The nature of reality! Does it exist? Of course not!—religious,
social and psychological points of view. Not to forget politics, This is, after all, the US, as seen
from the other side of the pond. Everything is touched upon, nothing is examined in anything
other than rather pretentious cliché. Nothing gets resolved. A third flight appears on the
horizon, another planeload of passengers and crew…
Oh, please. Spare me. Spare yourself. I’m just glad it’s all over.