The Coincidence Authority
by John Ironmonger
Rating: 3 & 1/2 Stars
‘Thomas Post is an expert on coincidences. He’s an authority. People come to see him, to ask him if he can explain strange events that have befallen them, and he can always explain these things away. We poor humans, he would say, have a tendency to make patterns out of random shapes, or to construct meaning from the random behaviour of the universe.
But one day Thomas gets a visit from Azalea Lewis, and his world will never be the same again. For Azalea’s coincidences seem to go off the scale. The lives of Thomas and Azalea become entwined, their destinies entangled. And now, with Azalea apparently dead in a foreign land, Thomas must reassemble the pieces of her life in search for the patterns that drove it. And that means he must try to unravel the coincidences that so afflicted her…’
After reading and thoroughly enjoying Ironmonger’s latest novel Not Forgetting The Whale – the review of which you can find here – I snatched up his previous two books (The Coincidence Authority and The Notable Brain of Maximillian Ponder) from the library.
I was surprised by how much I enjoyed Not Forgetting The Whale as I’d never heard of Ironmonger before, but I was entranced by his writing style and his subject matter. He somehow manages to combine really important issues of why we’re here and what we can contribute to the world, with moments of fable-esque whimsy and humour.
The Coincidence Authority follows along these lines, darting back and forth in time and in and out of people’s heads. There’s still an almost choral quality to it, with the same story being viewed through the eyes of various different characters but it’s much more wide-ranging than the isolated fishing community at the centre of Whale.
As the story progresses, Thomas and Azalea try to unravel the mysteries of her life, taking them all over the UK and eventually into Africa. Ironmonger deftly shifts the story from Thomas Post’s office at the university, back in time to a an elevator pile up on the London tube, a carnival in Cornwall, further back to a christening mishap. He easily jumps across counties and continents, day and decades without ever losing the thread. In some aspects his writing reminds me of Salman Rushdie, as I’ve previously said in this Top Ten Tuesday post.
Weaved through the mystery of Azalea’s past is an in-depth investigation of fate and coincidence. Somehow Thomas’ lectures never get boring and, although the mathematics of it all was a little mind-bending at times, I thoroughly enjoyed learning about it.
Once we finally get to Africa in the present (we also explore it in the past timelines) things really feel like they’re building up to an important event. But here in lies my greatest disappointment – the ending. I’m not going to say what happens but it just didn’t fit for me. I suppose I was expecting something like the end of Whale, which is open and closed all at once. Those dreaded expectations again.
I enjoyed the book, especially the narratives jumping back and forth but the ending let me down.