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The Tesseract by Alex Garland

With characteristic humility, Alex Garland once described his first novel as Tube fodder, something for cubicle types to drown themselves in on the train to work.

'The Tesseract' by Alex GarlandBut if The Beach was accessible enough to be adapted into a Hollywood summer release starring Leonardo DiCaprio, it was also a very smart book. Even more so the follow-up, which has hurled the mopish Garland into the front ranks of contemporary British writing.

He stays with the audience friendly Vonnegut-sized chapters, the sensuous locales, and the crisp pace, but this is no formula, and Garland is no supermarket hack.

The Tesseract, set in the slums, high rises, fields and suburbs of the Philippines, is a remarkably deft meditation on the relationship between nostalgia and imagination, between adrenaline and intelligence, between astrophysics and the subatomic particle.

With extensive and effective use of the flashback, Garland offers a kaleidoscopic tour through the lives of gangsters, a suburban housewife, her deformed childhood lover, a graduate student, a particle of light, and two Manila street kids, all of whom are united in a final point blank climax that feels like a scene from Reservoir Dogs through the directing lens of Stephen Hawking.

And indeed the book is filmic; Garland possesses a fine yet restrained descriptive capability, a vivid sense of place that is often overcooked by lesser writers. While the 9mm drama and forays into philosophy of science that make up The Tesseract might easily overstep, Garland always manages to pull back, tighten the ideas up and proceed evenly in a fresh direction; the final form is neat, near flawless.

Only time will tell if comparisons with J. G. Ballard and Graham Greene are justified, but this sophomore effort makes clear that Garland is going to be around for a while. A good thing, that.

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