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‘The Anomaly,’ France’s Hot Quarantine Novel, Now Out in English

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L’Anomalie, the only book that has ever been nominated for the Goncourt, Renaudot, Medicis, and Décembre prizes in France, has now been published in English as “The Anomaly.” And, it looks like American readers will be gobbling it up soon.

Here’s the synopsis:

When an Air France flight from Paris to New York experiences extreme turbulence, no one suspects anything except foul weather is at play. But when that same plane lands twice with an identical list of passengers—first in March 2021, as scheduled, and then again in June 2021—U.S. government officials work with the brightest minds from Princeton and MIT to launch an investigation that calls into question the nature of reality as we know it. Setting up a clandestine operation at a military base in New Jersey, they begin to piece together what, exactly, happened on that flight. The Anomaly unfolds like a procedural drama as new details are gradually unveiled through chapters told from the perspective of various passengers, among them: Blake, a respectable family man, though he works as a contract killer; Slimboy, a Nigerian pop star tired of living a lie; Joanna, a formidable lawyer whose flaws have caught up with her; or Victor Miesel, a private writer who has suddenly become a cult hit. All of them believed they had double lives. None imagined just how true that was.

The premise of The Anomaly, which won the Prix Goncourt in 2020, is indeed compelling. “The double anomaly at the heart of the novel — the upending of time in a world that discovers it is simulated — captured a moment when the pandemic stopped the world and existence veered toward the virtual,” writes Roger Cohen in his review of the book in the NYT.

The Anomaly: A Novel

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I just started to dig into The Anomaly and I can understand the hype. It’s hard to put down. Here’s an excerpt:

Just ask Blake, you get the best coffee in Saint-Germain in this bar on the corner of the Rue de Seine. A good coffee, and Blake means a really good one, is a miracle born of the intimate collaboration between excellent beans (these are freshly roasted Nicaraguan), finely ground, with filtered, softened water, and an espresso machine, in this instance a Cimbali that’s cleaned every day.

Since Blake opened his first vegetarian restaurant on the rue de Buci, not far from the Odéon Theatre, he’s been a regular here. If you’re going to despair about life, the universe, and everything, you might as well do it on a Parisian café terrace. In this neighborhood, then, he’s Joe, for Jonathan, or Joseph, or Joshua. Even his employees call him Joe, and his surname doesn’t feature anywhere, except probably in the entry for the organization’s holding company recorded on the trade register. Blake has always been obsessive about secrecy, or shall we say discretion, and he has daily proof that this is a good instinct.

Here, though, he lowers his guard. He does some shopping, goes to pick up his two children from school, and, since they’ve taken on a manager for each of the four restaurants, he and Flora even go to the theater and the movies. An everyday life, in which you can also be injured, but only because when you took Mathilde for her pony ride you accidentally knocked your forehead against the door to the box stall.

His two lives are completely sealed off from each other, perfectly watertight. Joe and Flora are paying off the mortgage on a lovely apartment, steps away from the Luxembourg Gardens, while twelve years ago Blake paid cash for a one-bedder near the Gare du Nord station. It’s in a handsome building on the rue La Fayette, and the doors and windows are as bulletproof as the walls of a safe. The rent is paid by an official tenant whose name changes every year, a process made all the easier by the fact that he doesn’t exist. You can’t be too careful.

Photo by Rhiannon Elliott on Unsplash

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