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Mr g: A Novel About The Creation by Alan Lightman


It will all end in the ticking
of the atomic clock
On days when I'm feeling blue, under-appreciated, unmotivated, or lacking all the things I feel I should, by now, as a middle class WASP in his mid- to late-thirties, have accrued or achieved in order to make my mark on the world, I will think back to this novel and smile, wafting away such cares as I would a midge or the smoke of a barbecue on a summer's day. Whether you believe it to be a plausible history of The Creation or not, the story of a universe, possibly our own, has never before been presented to me in such a tactile, understandable way, and as such, I am absolutely delighted with this novel. If you ever wanted to feel small, insignificant, infinitesimal, but at the same time be totally uplifted, transcendental, and filled with the borrowed wisdom of someone with such a grasp on existential matters, then I urge you to pick this up post-haste.

On to the story, and from within a shapeless and formless void, three unknowable, infinite and immortal entities exist outside of time and space. Yet for one of them, curiosity and the urge for change manifest in the creation of everything we know. Guided by soulful, slow-moving Uncle Deva* and fractious Aunt Penelope** our un-named (but inferably eponymous) narrator is moved to create the universe. In fact, he creates millions of them. The act of creation means the existence of time is also established, given there was a before and now an after the point of creating the universe. Space also now exists within the bubbles of the newly formed cosmoses. Mr g then follows one particular universe, perhaps our own, from this point through to its ultimate demise, providing it with three immutable laws from which all else follows. This creation provokes into life another immortal, and his detestable familiars; Belhor: erudite, persuasive and exhortative of the counterpoint to beauty and goodness. Together they discuss good and evil, relativity and immutability, and watch as the lives of a billion billion creatures pass by in the blink of an eye. And as the universe ends, Mr g decides to do it all again, for as Ælfric notes in his Old English translation of Genesis, 'God geseah ða ðæt hit god wæs.***'

I have no ability to judge the accuracy of the time frames that Lightman projects, or of the reality of energy and particle interaction that creates animate matter from the inanimate, but if I feel anything it is something akin to absolute faith that he's right, which, considering my absolute lack of faith in most things is telling of the power of the storyteller here. In one fell swoop, Lightman has married a creationist and humanist world view, intelligent design and the accident of evolution. Life in the universe exists because of the initial act of creation (by thought not word incidentally) but life develops because of causality, because of the creator's immutable laws, but along rational scientific lines, until the entropic universe disperses all of its energy and the last light of civilisation blinks out. 

If you, like I, loved Sum by David Eagleman, then you will love this too. 

* Deity in both Hinduism and Buddhism

** Given Lightman's tendency to give his characters names from antiquity and religion, perhaps Auntie represents connumbial fidelity à la The Odyssey? It's not as if she has much choice...

*** And God saw that it was good. A potential tattoo right there, that.


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