In a novel that examines the divide between skepticism and religion, Barber (The Marlowe Papers, 2012, etc.) uses the sweeping ideas of faith and science to delve into the story of a man struggling with the ever incomprehensible force of grief.
Finlay Logan is a criminal psychologist in a near-future England where popular opinion and government action are pushing to classify religious fundamentalism as a mental illness. While investigating the medically defined sanity of April Smith, a teenager who committed a shocking atrocity inspired by her religious beliefs, Logan finds himself grappling with his own tenuous grip on mental health. Nearly destroyed by grief after the accidental death of his adored daughter, Logan seeks perverse solace in an excess of work and a growing gulf of misunderstanding between him and his wife. Despite his efforts, he struggles to connect with April enough to assess her sanity and turns to the alluring Gabrielle Salmon, a cognitive scientist who studies consciousness, induces spiritual experiences with lab equipment, and claims to have been in contact with the dead. Logan’s professional interest in belief becomes an intensely personal choice between pharmaceutical and religious salvation. The novel splits into alternate storylines based on his decision, playing with motifs borrowed from quantum mechanics. It survives this brutal division, bolstered by Logan’s fascinatingly miserable character, so finely drawn in competing urges. He is manipulative, unfaithful, dubious, and yet often motivated by the irreproachable urge of love. Though Barber sometimes veers into absurdly extended metaphors, that excess occasionally uncovers extraordinarily beautiful and piercing images that solidify a story of the ineffable. “Her eyes open painfully wide, and in a blink, two teary blinks, are emptied of love and stuffed to their lids with shock.”
Barber's sensational premise delivers an unexpectedly piercing exploration of loss and different kinds of faith.