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louis de bernieres : light over liskeard

 

A new novel from Louis de Bernieres promises so much. The famed author of Captain Corelli’s Mandolin and many other titles, along with a substantial catalogue of poetry, is indeed a superb wordsmith. But in this new novel that talent seems to be both a blessing and a curse. The words themselves are delightful – quirky, whimsical, philosophical, sometimes teasing – but ultimately what do they actually say? Sadly not very much.

The narrative is, in essence, a modern fable about life in a dystopian near-future where humans have become virtually superfluous in a world dominated by artificial intelligence. A two-line prologue sets the scene: ‘what if being awake is really a dream, and dreaming is just another dream inside a dream?’

At its heart, this is the story of a brilliant mathematician known as Q who is a government-employed quantum cryptographer. Q sees that ‘the inexorable AI’ is destroying society and the human race. Looking for a better future, he moves from the city to an abandoned farmhouse in Devon known as Hippies Wood. Here he meets a curious ensemble of strange characters including a devout holy man awaiting the second coming; a Knight of olde; a romantic ghost; and Theodore, a friendly local whose signature dish is marinated mouse-kebabs. There’s also Theo’s daughter Eva, an artist who takes an amorous interest in Q even though he seems too dull and stolid for a young woman who is so lively and creative.

Arranged in 59 brief chapters, each little more than an incident or anecdote, there are lovely moments to be enjoyed and many cautionary tales about our enthusiastic embrace of a technological world that far too few of us really understand. But this is all a little lost in clever conversations and meandering country lanes that never really lead anywhere at all.

LIGHT OVER LISKEARD was released a couple of months ago and I kept it aside to read and savour and ponder when life was a little less hectic, expecting it to be both a joy and a conundrum.  But disappointingly, it doesn’t quite live up to its promise and it has to be said that Light over Liskeard is rather less than the sum of its parts.

Published by Harvill Secker, a Penguin Random House imprint. RRP $34.99

Review by Dr Diana Carroll

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