Originally published in French on Aug. 20, 2020, Hervé Le Tellier’s “The Anomaly” received an English translation by Adriana Hunter on Nov. 23. The novel is the recipient of the Goncourt prize and is a blend of science fiction, mystery and romance.
“The Anomaly” follows passengers aboard a flight from Paris to New York that, after experiencing extreme turbulence, emerges on the other side of the clouds and lands in the United States where, months earlier, the same plane with the same people aboard had already landed.
Shifting between before and after the discovery of their doppelgängers the book primarily follows Blake, a family man who doubles as a contract killer, Slimboy a closeted Nigerian popstar, Joanna a lawyer pressured to work for a Big Pharma client, Victor a “meta” writer who on the cusp of worldwide recognition writes “The Anomaly” and André a hopelessly in love aging architect.
The second plane’s existence is an anomaly that the United States Government struggles to explain. The world’s scientists, mathematicians, philosophers, religious groups and even the people aboard the flight, along with their clones, have just one question: what does it even mean to exist?
Le Tellier is a mathematician and a member of the experimental writing group Oulipo. Consequently, his novel is heavily influenced by questions of simulation probabilities, morality, space and time. Split into three parts, the last two explore how people would react if confronted with the idea that their existence—or rather, what they perceive to be their existence— was a falsity. The novel is steeped in metaphysics and as a result tends to feel heavy at times. The flowing prose and pockets of satirical, comedic moments, make up for this weight though.
Although science fiction is not a genre I typically read, “The Anomaly” was just the right amount of science, mystery and speculative fiction to keep me interested. The concept of alternate realities and simulations is not new; despite this, I think Le Tellier successfully crafts a narrative fraught with anxieties that challenges what we believe our true purpose on earth might be. The plot is intriguing, and although it asks more questions than gives answers, it manages to conclude in a bleak but satisfying way.
Hervé Le Tellier leaves it to the reader to answer the age-old question of why we exist, an anomaly in and of itself.
I would give “The Anomaly” 3 out of 5 stars.