CBR15 BINGO – Take Flight, because a flight from Paris to New York figures critically in the plot of the novel
On March 10, an Air France flight leaves Paris for JFK Airport in New York City. Among the 200+ passengers and crew aboard flight 006 are a young attorney, a closeted Nigerian pop star, a hitman leading a double life, a French novelist, a young film editor and her much older romantic partner, and a seven-year-old girl. The plane encounters turbulence so fierce that the passengers are terrified and the plane is damaged, though the pilot is able to land safely. Once returned to Terra Firma, the passengers and crew go about their sometimes-tragic, sometimes-fruitful lives, never realizing that what they encountered that day would eventually cause them to question the nature of reality.
If that’s enough of a hook for you, please do pick up this entertaining and thoughtful novel. If you want to know more, continue reading, but there be spoilers ahead.
The Anomaly begins by introducing the characters I mentioned above in a series of chapters where we learn about each character’s life prior to and in the three months following the fateful Air France flight. As we learn about their futures–one character’s suicide, another’s cancer diagnosis, another’s failed relationship–Le Tellier teases us with flashbacks of the flight. Except, at a certain point, the plots branch, and we aren’t in a flashback anymore. The flight hits similar turbulence but, this time, when the pilot radios for landing assistance he’s met with questions and skepticism. When they land, the passengers and crew are greeted by FBI agents and mathematicians and psychologists and are told that their flight landed three months ago and it is now, in fact June, not March.
Mathematicians and scientists pose hypotheses, the most likely of which is that we are living in a simulated reality. This is where an entertaining novel veers into philosophy and becomes no less entertaining. How will people react if and when the government tells them that our world isn’t “real.” Is there any way to avoid giving people this news with 200+ doppelgängers currently being held in temporary detention? What will happen to the passengers when they meet their “other” selves?
I came upon this novel by accident–my husband picked it up at a “book buffet” that was held at my local library. He enjoyed it and wanted me to read it so we could discuss. I’m not sure what I expected, but my experience with French literature has been fairly limited–let’s say Jules Verne and Victor Hugo with a splash of Voltaire. I don’t think I’ve read any contemporary French authors, and the readability of this novel while dealing with intense issues surprised me; my feelings about it vacillate between “fun” and “bitterly tragic.”
It’s not a perfect novel. Aside from the sometimes excessive cultural references, which range from Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy and Close Encounters of the Third Kind to The Late Show with Stephen Colbert, the meetings between the characters and their “doubles” don’t always hit the expected emotional notes. The practical problems are interesting; for example, how does a mother respond to a woman–not just a woman, but allegedly another version of herself–wanting to co-parent “her” child? How do lovers adjust to the knowledge that in the past three months, their other selves broke up? If one’s other self is no longer alive, is that a blessing or a curse? In spite of these interesting dilemmas, none of the characters completely lost their minds, which you might expect if somebody told you that there is a duplicate of yourself in the next room–one who literally knows every bit of your history with the exception of anything that has happened in the last three months–and now you’re going to meet them. At least one or two of the passengers might be expected to have a complete breakdown. That’s a small complaint, though, and for the most part I was on board with this turbulent ride.
Apparently The Anomaly was a huge hit in France, having won the Prix Goncourt in 2020. I’m glad for the serendipitous event that lead to my reading it. Though I do have to wonder now whether my reading it was fate or free will, or simply part of a larger simulation.