Skip to main content

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.


Comments

How's about that then?

The Headmaster's Wife by T. C. Greene

I bought this on the recommendation of someone whose opinion I respect if not always agree with, and also as it was an Amazon daily deal I felt that 99p or whatever it cost was not too much to risk. I have become a little narrow in the field of what I choose to read and welcomed the digression offered. Subsequently, I feel a little hoodwinked. 
T.C. Greene’s previous book, Mirror Lake is one of those books that, as a former bookseller, I knew was there, would expect it to be propping up the centre of a table of multi-buy contemporary fiction, but had absolutely no desire to read whatsoever. They say you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover, but I disagree, given the time and effort spent by designers and publishers to ensure that any given book looks as similar as possible to the best-seller in any given genre. Mirror Lake enjoyed my ignorant prejudice for a good many months for this very reason. Of course, until I’d bought The Headmaster’s Wife I had no idea that the two Greenes were o…

Metaliterature - what meaning to have is this for meaning?

Not a review this time, more of a curiosity. It seems I'm receiving lots of hits from Russia (Здравствуйте России!) from people searching for the definition of "metaliterature". As such, it is something of a bespoke word, created to fit a need and probably not yet recognized outside literary theory / criticism circles (Merriam-Webster Online certainly don't like it). I was wondering what they typed in to end up here, so, for fun (it's not fun, sorry) I thought I'd bung it in Google Translate and see what came out. As it turns out, one needs a little hyphen for the rather ponderous machine to understand it, and even then only does half the job (meta seems to be meta in any language). 
Incidentally, below is, ironically, a Google Chrome Thesaurus definition* of "meta":

met·a Adjective/ˈmetə/
(of a creative work) Referring to itself or to the conventions of its genre; self-referentialInterestingly (not interesting, sorry) it says this for the full term, t…

And The Ass Saw the Angel by Nick Cave

Someone told me this novel, now nearly thirty years old (holy crap), Nick Cave's first and, possibly, his best, began life as a screenplay when he was still touring with The Birthday Present. That seems equally plausible and implausible. It is a wildly cinematic novel, narrated in flashback by the hermetic mute boy Euchrid Eucrow, who slithered into the world as one of a pair of damaged twins, the only one who survives the neglect of their first day on earth, and is vividly, viscerally visual. But it's also complicated, wildly imaginative, and at heart, finds a safer and more permanent berth in the gently revered world of literature than in the ever-changing and perfidious zeitgeist of cinema.

The story goes that Euchrid, after throwing himself into a bog into which he slowly sinks as he narrates his tale (to whom? and how?), was born, mute and unloved, into a truly Southern Gothic existence, mother a moonshine drunk, father a mean, bitter animal trapper, his community a severe…

A Rage in Harlem by Chester Himes

Often, intertextual inertia must give way to old promises and the making good thereof. In the case of Chester Himes, who I’d rescued from the clearance bin in Waterstone’s Cardiff before the summer, the paying of deserved respect was long overdue. I have a very soft spot for genre fiction, particularly when the content is framed quite so elegantly as that of Chester Himes’ Harlem cycle. Apologists justifiably present him as the Black American literary complement to white contemporaries and genre luminaries Chandler and Hammett, and from a personal perspective, his marriage of svelte prose and acute observation is as pleasing on the eye as anything from either author or other renowned pulp novelists like John D MacDonald. To my mind, Himes is particularly tasty bubble-gum for the brain. Of the verisimilitude of his characters I cannot comment. Harlem in the forties and fifties is as far removed from Cardiff in the ‘teens as I can possibly imagine (I sell myself short of course, but you g…