I pushed through and read Stella Maris, the companion novel to The Passenger, because it looked like a quick read due to its page count and the fact that it was all dialogue. The novel focuses on a series of conversation between Alicia Western, mathematics prodigy and sister of The Passenger’s protagonist Bobby Western, and her therapist. Alicia has checked herself into an institution where she had previously been involuntarily admitted. Her brother is in a foreign hospital in a coma and his chances aren’t good.
Why Alicia has committed herself is one of the novel’s central question, and in keeping with the theme of the late McCarthy efforts, it remains unclear throughout. Alicia doesn’t particularly engage with her therapist, preferring to play verbal games and dodge his questions as opposed to actively trying to understand her behavior. As readers of The Passenger will be aware, Alicia has been having hallucinations, although she refuses to call them that during her therapy.
Stella Maris suffers from being little more than a thought exercise. Whatever impressive thoughts Alicia might be expressing about epistemology, mathematics, physics or the history of the nuclear bomb are overwhelmed by the repetitive nature of her therapy sessions. It’s not too impressive or entertaining to hear someone prove how smart they are by running circles around an imaginary opponent in a non-existent setting.
If anything, I understood Stella Maris more than The Passenger, but liked it less.