Top critical review
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Intriguing, but a disappointing end
on April 27, 2007
This is a book with so much promise. The central character, Alice, is intriguing and the characters who surround her, particularly her grandparents, are real and likeable. The author keeps several plotlines on the boil at once, and all of them get you in: now-Alice as she struggles through a work conference in rural England, then-Alice as a child growing up in her grandparents' household with a growing interest in codes and cryptography and a mystery where someone at work is sending Alice encoded messages. Scarlett Thomas really gets you in and hooks you into the story, while doing a great job explaining code concepts, as good as Neal Stephenson in Cryptonomicon.
Unfortunately about two thirds of the way through the novel everything Thomas has built up started to just run out of steam. Alice starts having various crises of confidence both in the contemporary storyline and in her flashbacks and it all just starts to get a bit tedious.
For me, Thomas fails to bring any of the various storylines she has developed to any kind of satisfying conclusion. Most limp to a whimpering conclusion. A couple actually peter out altogether. The main "mystery" that's run throughout the book is a complete disappointment, with the denouement being a large dose of ill-thought out "let's all just only ever buy organic products and oppose globalisation" speechifying. I found myself reading the wooly-headed hugfest ending and exclaiming out loud "oh, please".
Such a pity for a book with such initial promise to end up like this!