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The universe versus Alex Woods

 

On the surface this book by Gavin Extence was  light-hearted. It started with a bang wanting to make you read on, although that first chapter also gave away where the book was heading which was towards the much heavier theme of assisted dying (not hinted at on the cover at all).

It is told in the first person from the viewpoint of a naïve, geeky teenager and has a similar feel to the writing of Mark Haddon in ‘The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time’. After the first chapter the narrative dragged a little with too much detail at times, however as the book went on it picked up again.

The basic tale is about a boy who survived being hit by a meteor (a device which brings in asides about physics and astronomy). The notoriety this event, alongside being brought up by a single mother who runs a shop selling tarot cards and the like, epilepsy (with asides about neurology) brought on by the accident and his bookish character make him a prime candidate for being bullied. Escaping his bullies sets up the meeting with Mr Peterson which is the relationship at the centre of the story. Many of the characters seemed a little one dimensional and typecast and yet situations spoke to us – in particular the portrayal of school life from the perspective of the bullied.

The book plays with a lot of big themes – seemingly very lightly: fate’s role in our lives; the hugeness of space and our tiny part in it; elementary particles and meaningless numbers; curious incidents and unexpected connections … and Kurt Vonnegut. But the biggest is death and the right to choose– which is dealt with in a very matter of fact yet moving way.

The end message seems to be – you only get one shot at life, and you have to make the best possible choices.

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