The Universe Versus Alex Woods - Gavin Extence

Genre: Fiction
Synopsis: A rare meteorite struck Alex Woods when he was ten years old, leaving scars and marking him for an extraordinary future. The son of a fortune teller, bookish, and an easy target for bullies, Alex hasn't had the easiest childhood. But when he meets curmudgeonly widower Mr. Peterson, he finds an unlikely friend. Someone who teaches him that that you only get one shot at life. That you have to make it count. So when, aged seventeen, Alex is stopped at customs with 113 grams of marijuana, an urn full of ashes on the front seat, and an entire nation in uproar, he's fairly sure he's done the right thing ... The Universe Versus Alex Woods is a celebration of curious incidents, astronomy and astrology, the works of Kurt Vonnegut and the unexpected connections that form our world.


Review: I opened this book (on my tablet) and made a conscious decision not to revisit the above synopsis, which I had read, but entirely forgotten due to reading other books in the interim. I therefore was not even aware of the meteorite bit, though I deduced it pretty quickly. (Initially I thought lightning, but changed to meteorite). So I really had absolutely no clue what to expect, and as such the first few chapters were immensely enjoyable - quirky, unlikely, exciting. I thought I was in for a real treat.

Since finishing it, I've skimmed several other reviews on Goodreads, among which are many 5-star reviews which all, almost without exception, refer to this book as 'heart-warming' or a 'coming-of-age tale'. That is not where the first few chapters suggested the novel was headed, but ultimately even the off-handed, very literal narrative of the seemingly mildly-autistic narrator was not enough to stop it turning into a fairly generic example of both those things. I found the clash between the amusing absurdity of the first few chapters and the relative plausibility of most of the rest of the novel quite disappointing - essentially I felt set up for one thing, only to receive something else entirely. Ultimately, the only things that make this novel quirky - the meteorite and subsequent epilepsy - are incidental and entirely irrelevant to the rest of the novel. The one thing that might have saved it and allowed the plot to hold its own - the presence of difficult subject matter in the second half - was a little too off-handed and ill-paced to have any real emotional impact on me, and as a result of all this, a conceptually-awesome novel falls flat.

All of that said, it was absolutely, laugh out loud hilarious in parts, and much of the writing was very intelligent, well-researched, and very entertaining, if not particularly insightful. Genuinely, parts of this book are undoubtedly among the greatest pieces of writing I'll read all year, and if for no other reason, I'm glad I read it for that. I feel if Extence had not tried so hard to emulate the feel of a Kurt Vonnegut book with such an un-Kurt-like plot, he may have had a winner with this novel. As it is, it felt like the style was his primary focus and the actual story suffered for that. Regardless, the obvious potential he has will definitely compel me to try whatever he writes next.

Rating: 3/5

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