This delightful philosophical novel recently kept me entertained over two late-afternoon reading sessions. I would have welcomed a third and fourth sitting but, alas, the book is too short. Such is life! The beauty of the book, however, is that it expands within the reader’s mind like a flower coming into bloom. All Loe does is plant a few seeds inside his reader’s head. They are perfectly formed seeds, but Loe’s real skill is restraint. This is the key to a good philosophical novel: it should not dictate a worldview, just show its readers a handful of signposts and have them do the rest.
The story follows an unnamed narrator over a period of the three or four weeks since his 25th birthday. Failing to understand the meaning of life, the kind young chap abandons his studies and lives in the apartment that belongs to his brother who is away travelling somewhere (“He told me where he was going. I have written it down. It might have been Africa”). Our protagonist spends his days communicating to a distant friend by fax, buying toys and playing with a neighbour’s toddler. Eventually he travels to New York where the world opens up for him.
The boy’s penchant for lists (“Things I have seen today”/“Things that used to excite me as a child”) is continually entertaining, as is his naïve but charming point of view. Loe manages to colour him with both the understanding that everything is rather simple and the inescapable overload of life. That is Loe’s genius: understated philosophy. Very clever.