STRANGE BODIES by Marcel Theroux
Kirkus Star


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A labyrinthine exploration of identity and mortality, filled with big ideas that transcend the occasionally clunky plotting.

As one of the more literary-minded of science-fiction novelists (or vice versa), Theroux (Far North, 2009, etc.) challenges summary in a novel that encompasses literary criticism (the protagonist is a Samuel Johnson scholar, or perhaps he was); a conspiracy between a record company mogul and Russian scientists that involves shifting an individual’s consciousness into a new body (or “carcass”); and a couple of possible love stories that may include romance between the living and the dead. Dr. Nicholas Slopen—the literary scholar and Johnson expert—has already been declared dead once, and perhaps twice, by the time the novel presents itself as the testimony found by a former lover on a flash memory stick. The document begins in a mental ward, where the patient is trying to convince his therapists that he is in fact Slopen, whose death has been well-documented. He then relates the tale of how he (Slopen) had been hired to document some newly discovered Johnson letters that he immediately dismissed as fake, before realizing that he was in the midst of something far more extraordinary and sinister. The letters were written by an initially nonverbal savant who was convinced that he was in fact Johnson and who eventually convinces the scholar that something stranger is afoot than fraud or even madness. “I felt I understood less and less, even as, intuitively, I was drawing closer to the hidden chamber of the infinitely dark truth.” And within that infinitely dark truth, distinctions between sanity and madness, life and death are not nearly as absolute as they might have initially appeared: “All madness has a touch of death to it....But the finer details of reality—the state of a marriage, artistic merit, a person’s true nature—have something delicate and consensual about them....Each time someone drops out of our collective reality, it weakens a little.”

Often enthralling and occasionally maddening, the novel expands the reader’s sense of possibility even as it strains credulity.

Pub Date: Feb. 4th, 2014
ISBN: 978-0-374-27065-0
Page count: 304pp
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15th, 2013


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