“Love and Other Thought Experiments”

I have to say that I’m not really sure how Sophie Ward’s “Love and Other Thought Experiments” made it to the 2020 Booker Prize longlist. Perhaps they were seduced by the surreal nature of the narrative, both its timeline and how it shifts through different versions of reality. Perhaps they were recognising the quality of the writing which, in parts, is undoubtedly outstanding. But I’m afraid in the end, as I tried to unpack its convolutions, it was all a bit too weird for me.

I hope she didn’t get on the list because she was already ‘a name’. An actress, daughter of a famous actor-father, already in the public eye – especially given elements of her own personal story already widely reported in the media. Not that I was aware of that last part when reading the book; but knowing it now, would it be wrong for me to see echoes in elements of the female characters’ stories in the novel?

In the first chapter of the book – strange enough in its subject matter / premise – I struggled to delineate between the two female characters; part way through the second I was convinced I was reading a collection of short stories. Yes, Ward eventually ties them all together, but the bonds are too unreliable for my palette in that, by the end, much of what you had read early on in the novel she is subverting, making you question it entirely. Which part was real / the truth?

And maybe that’s the key takeaway from the novel. What is ‘truth’ and what ‘fantasy’, and how do we really know?