Set in 2003, with flashbacks to the late 90s, this is the story of accidental internet millionaire Eric Muller as he attempts to deal with his new found wealth and fame, his new real life girlfriend, and a world that has near infinite variables. Primarily an unorthodox and tragic love story between Eric and his obsession Maya Marcom as he tries hopelessly to negotiate an imaginary world between them, of pure consistency and knowlege, while she is busy throwing spanners into the machine. Filled with a mix of humour and trauma, we get an eccentric mix of characters, all with ever more variables, most notable of which being a thoroughly unsuccessful, but persevering father, who provides a nice juxtaposition to Eric’s neurotic and nay-saying motivations. Eric is a person without an identity, he looks to those around him to relay who he should be, only then can he fulfil the task; but with so many inconsistencies and his unwillingness to let out his nervous insistent thoughts he is a slow motion car crash. This is a novel about control.
The creation of Eric as a character between worlds is an inspired one – one wonders the thoughts and feeling of these nerdy, unsocial basement dwellers who suddenly find themselves rich and famous forced into social situations. The phenomenon of the celebrity internet nerd is a fairly new one and (although Eric is far from a celebrity) the originality of the concept and its contemporary relevance is engaging as we are sucked into his world of confusion. These facets of the story however are merely a back drop to another world Eric is drawn into, one far scarier, Love, the supreme unknown. Of course this is what the title of the book refers to; Eric is supposedly a character who deals in code and mathematics, unknowns don’t exist, all is accounted for, but that’s not how it works outside the bedroom door and this is where his neurosis springs from. It is especially pleasing to see this concept of the unknown pervade the text in several different areas and is even muddied when the idea of a recovered memory and its reliability rears its head; how can we even be sure that we know what we know? The book is written with an enjoyable quiet intelligence and the reader has the chance to connect parts of the story without the author pointing them out, I’m sure on a second read more interesting links could be made, which is impressive for a short book such as this one.
The Unknowns is however tempered with flaws – Eric was somewhat unlikeable, it is hard to fully engage with his character, I was far more sympathetic and interested in his father – who was far more tragic and likeable in that he tried so hard to make his businesses work with unwavering optimism. Eric’s tragedy was the slow dying of a miserable beast; I didn’t have any emotional response to his failure, except maybe ‘oh ok’. The writing is also quite inconsistent, there are some stunning passages, but these only go to showing up the rest of the writing, it’s not major, but it can feel like going down a road with speed bumps, which can be fun, you’re just never sure. The book was both funny and tragic, but they never seemed to mix, there was no flow between the two, which made it quite stilted – it mentioned Woody Allen on the cover and it certainly didn’t live up to that name. The disjointedness between the two could have been an interesting creative choice, but there was nothing inspiring about it, it just seemed odd.
Overall it didn’t live up to the ideas it was tackling – I want to say that the inconsistency and disjointedness were all part of the theme of being trapped between roles and expectations (the unknowns), much like Eric, but I don’t think this was the case. It was a good story however, I enjoyed it. If he wrote his next book with the father as a main character I would definitely read that.
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