Things have been unsettling since the beginning of the year. I feel the wind of change and I know I need to give my full attention to it. Not all minutes are created equal. Year 2020 flew by so did 2021. Time definitely felt distorted. They felt like a long couple of years that were recent and 2019 seemed like a long time ago. Mask wearing does affect our overall psyche and to top it all, the rules that have been implemented only to mess up our heads. I find my brains fog up as I try to reexamine my values, emotions and actions with a view to get a grip of reality.
Here is the phrase that happens to appear on Instagram under learnfrenchwithclemence this week:
Ça n’a aucun sens. It doesn’t make any sense.
Nothing is as it seems. Nothing is what it seems. What is our reality? That is the theme of the science fiction thriller The Anomaly by Hervé Le Tellier, winner of the 2020 Prix Goncourt.
L’anomalie written by Hervé Le Tellier translated into English by Adriana Hunter was published on 20 August 2020. The story In The Anomaly spans between March and October 2021. It contains three parts, As Black as the Sky ( March -June 2021), Life is a dream, They say (24-26 June 2021) Song of Oblivion (after 26 June 2021) ( Aussi noir que le ciel, La vie est un songe dit-on, and La chanson du néant)
On 24 June 2021 Air France 006 from Paris to New York flies through a storm and emerges, when its pilot seeks help to land a damaged Boeing 787, he is asked to land at a military air base, McGuire Air Force Base, New Jersey because the Air France 006 for the day had already landed at JFK more than four hours ago and it was a different aircraft with a different captain and co-pilot. On the other hand, the same flight with exactly the same damage, the same passengers and the same Commander David Markle, co-pilot and crew had already landed at JFK Airport three months ago on 10 March. Captain Markle is lost for words when the air controller mentions that it is Protocol 42 and then General Silveria from the Pentagon comes online to tell him that his plane will be escorted by two fighter jets into their national airspace. Markle thinks it is a huge joke. How can the same plane land twice? It is a conundrum.
The passengers end up in the hangar and they include a writer, a lawyer, an assassin, an abused seven-year-old girl, a dying cancer patient and a musician.
These passengers lead a double lives.
For instance, the assassin, Blake runs a vegetarian restaurant on the rue de Buci, not far from the Odéon Theatre. He is a regular at a cafe bar on the corner of the rue de Seine in Saint-Germain. To him you get the best coffee there.
‘ A good coffee, and Blake means a really good one, is a miracle born of the intimate collaboration between excellent beans (these are freshly roasted Nicaraguan) , finely ground, with filtered, softened water, and an espresso machine, in this instance a Cimbali that’s cleaned every day. ‘
‘If you’re going to despair about life, the universe, and everything, you might as well do it on a Parisian café terrace. In this neighbourhood, then, he’s Joe, or Jonathan, or Joseph, or Joshua. Even his emloyees call him Joe, and his surname doesn’t feature anywhere, except probably in the entry for the organization’s holding company recorded on the trade register. Blake has always been obsessive about secrecy, or shall we say discretion, and he has daily proof that this is a good instinct.’ – The Anomaly, Hervé Le Tellier translated by Adriana Hunter.
As there is an interval of exactly one hundred and six days between the two landings, during this time, amongst the two hundred and thirty passengers and thirteen crew members, one woman has given birth and two men have died.
One of the characters in the book is a writer. He makes a living through translation from English , Russian and Polish. In early March Victor Miesel is on board the flight from Paris to New York, the plane that flies through an horrendous storm and when the plane manages to come through all the turbulences and lands at JFK airport, he is so shaken that he remains in his hotel room until the man from the consulate picks him up only to find that he has not eaten or showered. He manages to proceed to deliver his thank you speech ‘in a droning voice’ for a translation prize for one of the thrillers and the cultural advisor is displeased with his behaviour. When he returns to Paris, he writes the book, ‘The Anomaly’. He fills hundreds of pages over few weeks , fluctuating between lyricism and metaphysics.
‘At forty- three, having spent fifteen years writing, he views the small literary community as a farcical train where crooks without tickets ostentatiously take first-class seats with the complicity of incompetent conductors, while modest geniuses are left on the platform – and the latter are an endangered species to which Miesel does not claim to belong.’
Before the second plane appears in June, Victor Miesel has already taken his life. He falls from his balcony on 22 April. ‘Miesel can come across as distant and aloof, yet in spite of everything, he has a reputation for his sense of humour‘. Before he takes his life, he emails his editor, Clémence Balmer his manuscript entitled ‘The Anomaly’. The book gets edited and printed. By May the book is sent out to distributors. It is an instant success.
Imagine you are the double and the original you have already taken his life and you now experience his ‘posthumous’ fame. The writer visits Yport cliff, Normandy where the ashes of another Victor Miesel were scattered at the end of April. There is no anticipated confrontation with his copy and he cannot figure out why his double has taken his life.He feels like it’s only a week since he left Paris in March. His editor, Clemence has organised a press conference, called ‘THE DOUBLE LIFE OF VICTOR MIESE’. When he is asked if he thinks they’re all in a simulation, this is his reply.
‘ I have no idea,’ Victor says simply. ‘ To paraphrase Woody Allen, I’d say if we are, I hope the programmers have a good excuse. Because the world they created really is a hell of a mess. Except that as far as I can see, we’re actually the ones making the mess.’
All the experts are called in by the President of America and dialogues are conducted between the physicists who are contenders for the 2021 Nobel Prize in Physics. To make the President understand, they try to illustrate their theories by referring to science fictions. Amongst the hypotheses, there is the “photocopier” theory, that is to say you can use 3D printing to make biological matter. But which plane is the original ? Arguably the “copy” plane arrived earlier. There is also the theory about how the brain can construct its reality. It is said that any reality is a construction , and even a reconstruction . The brain reconstruct its reality. It is believed that in a few years a human brain can be simulated and that program will achieve a degree of self- awareness. The President asks if it is like The Matrix. But the scientist explains that it is the other way round unlike in The Matrix , real humans are exploited by the machines and kept imprisoned in a simulated world. The scientist is suggesting that we’re actually just programs, highly evolved programs and we are not humans. In The Matrix, Agent Smith knows that he’s a program but we would not know we are “simulated humans” as we will not notice anomalies in our virtual environment. Our environment is not too complicated to counterfeit and it is fairly probable that we are some kind of simulated consciousness. It sounds far out but not too far-fetched.
In The Anomaly most of the characters seem to find some sense of reprieve through their duplicates. The whole planet has been confronted with a new reality and it is challenging all our illusions. But thinking takes time and the Tellier writes : ‘And most significantly, it ‘s a collective duty.’
Hervé Le Tellier has put together a science fiction that is injected with philosophical questions. The premise of the story is fascinating in that it explores the very question of existence and who you are. The story poses If there were a double living your life, would you want to share your life with another you ? How would it feel to look at your duplicate who knows you inside out ? Perhaps you may not rejoice but you will not overreact if you find yourself facing a double who shares your life. Who knows it may be a good chance to change your identity, go somewhere incognito reinvent yourself and start afresh.