Review: L'Anomalie, by Hervé le Tellier
Alert - there is no English translation of this book available (yet!) but if anybody is curious enough to want to read it, I can be bribed into making an attempt.
Anyhoooo - let's talk about L'Anomalie. The title of the book (literally, The Anomaly) summarizes it pretty well: it's the story of an AirFrance flight, one of the most commonly-run routes of transatlantic air travel, Paris-New York, that hits some bad turbulence in March. The first half of the book explores the impact of that nasty flight on a handful of the passengers, and we get the start of their story from their points of view. The tension starts to build as you wait to find out how all of these stories are going to end up intersecting, but then, we get the plot twist - it's three months later, and the exact same plane, with the exact same passengers, reappears. What in the fuck is going on? And thereby stems the rest of the narrative. The book is a bit of a grab-hub of different genres: a bit of sci-fi, a bit of ethical musing, a bit thriller, a bit romance. It shouldn't work, because Le Tellier jumps around and flirts around a lot and never settles fully into any one genre or one story, but somehow, it just totally does. It's a very interesting collage, a very original story, and I can totally see why it won the Goncourt last year.
I really, really enjoyed this book. I loved that it was out of my comfort zone, and made me think about things I don't usually spend a lot of time entertaining - I also really loved how much of the book was spent on the possible scientific explanations for the anomaly, before settling on one that made me feel like I was in a better-written version of Black Mirror (and I do not say that lightly - Black Mirror is a quintessentially excellent piece of genre television). And I loved how deeply unsympathetic a lot of the characters were, and how successfully Le Tellier managed to make us feel compassion and empathy for people who are, quite frankly, horrible (on a sidenote though - I would read an entire spinoff series about Blake the hitman). There's also a lot of meta-fiction in here - references to the French publishing and writing scene that I found hilarious, especially the sly digs that the author got in so regularly, but for people who aren't weirdly into the French literary scene might miss a lot of the wry, slightly cruel humor in this book.
This is one of those books that you have to really lean into the premise to appreciate, but once you do, you're going to get a lot out of it. It's also one of those books where you have to fully engage with the text, and sit with the language and the writing and the wordplay to get all of the jokes and narrative and themes; but if you're willing to put in the energy, it's a delightful, fun, thought-provoking, thoroughly interesting read. It's going to stand up to a lot of re-reading, and I'm putting it in contention for my best of 2021 list, and I hope someone takes on an English translation soon so more people can enjoy it.