The fourth novel by the prize-winning author of The Last King of Scotland (1998) considers the application of science to warfare via a young man’s journey of expiation.
Foden returns to fiction with a cerebral period piece devoted to two British obsessions—weather and World War II—narrated in hindsight by meteorologist Henry Meadows, whose life’s work has been to grapple with turbulence, “the last great problem in classical physics.” Meadows’ key wartime role, analyzing weather projections to determine the timing of the D-Day Landing, was preceded by a mission to Scotland, to spy on brilliant-but-pacifist scientist Wallace Ryman, whose Ryman number potentially held the key to computing the D-Day forecast. Emotionally withdrawn since childhood, after witnessing his parents’ death in a turbulence-created mudslide, Meadows makes an awkward spy and his dubious mission ends in tragedy. Returning to London, he joins the team predicting weather conditions for the invasion. In an oddly cinematic intervention, Ryman’s wife delivers the key to the mathematical conundrum, inspiring Meadows to predict the moment of opportunity. Joining the invasion himself, he offers a terrible, half-delirious depiction of the landing, later mysteriously disappearing from the narrative. Foden can’t resist concluding with a final variant on his by-now well-worn theme of whirls and eddies.
Well-crafted scientific and philosophical speculation dominates a less consistent plotline, making for thought-provoking if only patchily gripping reading.