Day 455: Andrew’s Brain

Cover for Andrew's BrainI’m not sure what I think of this short novel—perhaps that it’s a conceit.

Andrew is a cognitive scientist speaking to an unknown person, perhaps his psychiatrist, about his life. Andrew is an unreliable narrator, for at the end of the novel we find he cannot have been where he reports himself as having been (that is, if we believe the end of the novel). Further, he asserts several times that he has no emotions, when that is plainly untrue.

The novel begins with his story of abandoning his infant daughter after his second wife’s tragic death by giving her to his first wife Martha. Many of his reminiscences have to do with his actions being inadvertently destructive, but he also concentrates on his relationship with his much younger second wife, Briony.

In the midst of his stories he provides us with information about the workings of the brain and seems fascinated by the idea that scientists could one day manufacture a brain with consciousness. The novel poses questions about such subjects as whether free will exists, what composes consciousness, whether memory is reliable, but little nuggets about the workings of the brain are from relatively basic neuroscience, which does not leave me convinced that the observations are actually those of a scientist.

The turn the novel takes at the end is suddenly political and absurdist, and it has almost nothing to do with the rest of the book. Are we to believe Andrew’s story, or is he delusional (perhaps even a manufactured consciousness)? As I mentioned before, in one part of the novel he apparently phones his interlocutor to tell him he is living in a farmhouse with some people about whom he had at one time dreamed. At another point he is apparently writing a letter from a cabin high above a Norwegian fjord. When we finally learn what are supposed to be his actual circumstances, those reported two places of residence are plainly impossible.

In any case, although this novel is interesting enough, it is ultimately unsatisfying and feels almost like a joke the author is playing on us.

Full disclosure: I received this novel free as a giveaway from Goodreads.

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5 thoughts on “Day 455: Andrew’s Brain

  1. Cecilia January 13, 2014 / 11:46 am

    I had a few opportunities to get an advance copy of this but after your review (and others similar to it) I’m glad I didn’t choose to read this. Too bad it turned out a disappointment! (But congrats on your win – I never win those giveaways and am amazed at people who do…)

    • whatmeread January 13, 2014 / 11:52 am

      I won a few but stopped entering the giveaways because the books I won were such a disappointment, and then I felt obligated to review them, having spent time to read them. If you read ebooks, you might try a service like Netgalley, which allows you to request books before or shortly after their publication that you think you might like. You’re not winning them–they look at the information about your blog that you provide and decide whether to let you have them. I have found that there is a lot less junk on that site. The site is aimed at professional readers, but you are considered one because you keep a blog. You get the book to download on your device for about 60 days, and then it expires. So far, they have given more than half the books I asked for. You are expected to provide feedback after you read the book, including posting a review.

      • Cecilia January 13, 2014 / 11:56 am

        Very interesting. I’ve heard of Netgallery but didn’t know the specifics of how it worked. I will check it out. Thanks!

  2. Carolyn O January 13, 2014 / 12:28 pm

    Yep, don’t think this one is for me, either. Glad you like NetGalley, though. 🙂

    • whatmeread January 13, 2014 / 12:35 pm

      I kept waiting for it to get somewhere, but when it got there, it was ridiculous!

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