If someone had told me that I’d enjoy a novel which entangles quantum mechanics with a post-structuralist take on literature, I would have thought they were nuts! Quantum mechanics, in particular, is a branch of human inquiry that humbled me. When studying the subject in college, I came to realize that there were some things that I’d never understand, no matter how hard I applied myself. Sometimes, hard work and determination aren’t enough. Since then, I steered clear of anything reeking of quantum mechanics.
Ruth Ozeki’s novel, A Tale for the Time Being, is an exception for me. I suspect its explanations of principals of quantum mechanics are rather superficial, but it was fun to see how the science could be used to interject a sense of wonder and mystery to the events described in the novel. It was also interesting to see an extreme demonstration of the effect a reader’s agency could (theoretically) have upon events and people. I’m not sure I liked the result, but it was fun to consider.
Even with the interesting thought experiments played out above, I’m not sure this novel would have done much for me if it hadn’t been for the incredibly interesting characters that peopled it. Every last character, including the minor ones, is compelling in his or her own way. What stuck me was how each one seemed opaque to the others in some respects. No matter their proximity to one another, there was an essential unknowableness about each individual. This opacity transfers to the main character’s diary too. Diaries are supposed to be intimate, ultimately revealing, but this novel demonstrates how limited that is, when taken in isolation.
On a side note, I also enjoyed learning what the book had to share on Japanese culture.
I can’t do this book justice in this review. I can, however, recommend it to all and sundry.