Wednesday, 8 January 2014

The Coincidence Authority, by J. W. Ironmonger

The Coincidence Authority is, as you might expect, a book full of coincidences. Or is it? Because, as the protagonist Thomas Post believes, there is no such thing as a coincidence. He is the ‘Coincidence Authority’, researching and studying and boiling coincidences down into mathematical formulae, demonstrating that so-called chance encounters usually have a higher chance of occurring than you might think. Until Azalea Banks walks into his office, that is. Her life is full of strange occurrences, coincidences that she feels are not coincidences so much as a demonstration of fate, of some pre-determined path along which her life is destined follow, and in which she has little or no choice of alluding. Can Thomas convince Azalea that she can live outside of her coincidences, or will he succumb to her line of thinking?

Obviously this is a book that gets you thinking about coincidences and the logic behind them, but it is thought-provoking in other ways too, for it is not just a book about coincidences; it is not just a love story or a story about one woman’s extraordinary and unusual life. As the different parts of Azalea’s life gradually come to light, J. W. Ironmonger takes us from London to the Isle of Man, to rural Britain, and across the continents to Africa, and here he introduces the horrors of Joseph Kony and the LRA (‘Lord’s Resistance Army’), real people whose real and despicable actions I had not heard of before, and Ironmonger’s words and descriptions of them strike steel into the heart.

And so this is not a book about any one thing. It is a about a man who studies statistics, but who discovers that life defies numbers. It is about a woman who believes in fate only to discover that the interpretation of fate is a blurred and fuzzy thing. Ironmonger balances theories and thought games with real life occurrences, with deftly created fictional characters and fictional lives, focusing in on coincidences and then spanning out to a wide-shot view of a person or a family or a country, mixing chance with belief with misunderstanding in a complex web that bursts open as the book nears it’s conclusion. It is interesting and unusual, sweeping and vivid.

Do you believe in coincidences? Does J. W. Ironmonger believe in coincidences? Perhaps in the end you just have to except that things are the way the they are and just go with it.

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