Splinter

Splinter by Adam Roberts

A short novel inspired by a Jules Verne story known in English as Off On A Comet. Hector travels to the ranch owned by his father, Hector Senior, who has gathered a group of followers under the belief that the earth is about to be hit by an object that will destroy the planet, leaving only a small fragment upon which the ranch is situated. The story, at heart, is about the relationship Hector has with his father, how that has shaped his life, and how it prevents him from fully believing his father’s prophecy, even after events begin to challenge his skepticism.

Given the strong father-son themes of the book, I couldn’t help thinking of Charles Yu’s How To Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe. Both are narrated by the adult son struggling to move out of the father’s shadow. For Yu’s protagonist, the father is dead, and it is the emptiness of the father’s last years and the son’s failure to stay close to him that has left him adrift. Hector Junior’s father lives, but there is a lot between him and Hector Senior that makes it hard for him to get close – not least the realisation, in watching Hector Senior as a leader of what is almost a cult, that he knew very little of his father as a man.

Along with Hector Junior’s inability to cope with his father as a passionate, vulnerable, and sexual being, there are elements of a regression into almost an adolescent attitude toward Hector Senior and those around him. Prophecy, in this story, is heavily tied to the past and memory, and as the object that has destroyed the earth apparently seeks to communicate with and understand Hector, coming to the home of his father becomes not just figuratively but literally an exploration of their past.

Each of the novel’s sections uses a different tense: Beginning in the past, then the presnet, and finally, the future tense, the use of which creates an appropriately dreamlike quality as the story takes a turn to the surreal. There’s a contrast built between the advancing story and tense, and the increasing focus on the past.

Second only to the father/son themes is Hector Junior’s attitudes toward women, with a failed relationship in his recent past and his faltering attempts to get close to some of the women in his father’s compound. It is perhaps approriate that as he reverts into adolescent attitudes in the middle of the novel he also becomes more juvenile regarding sex, but the scenes dealing with his increasingly pathetic fixation on the woman Dimmi are probably the weaker parts of the novel.

The ending of the novel is somewhat ambiguous, where scenes from his father’s memory appear to be recreated around Hector, culminating in his meeting with a female figure which – given the context of the rest of Hector’s relationships – brings to mind some strong Oedipal undertones.

I still don’t know how to end reviews properly.

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