Maxwell’s Demon by Steven Hall
As a fan of Steven Hall’s debut novel, The Raw Shark Texts, anticipation was high for their tense follow-up, Maxwell’s Demon
In Maxwell’s Demon we follow Thomas Quinn, a writer struggling to complete an assignment and struggling in other ways, too. Missing his wife who is conducting a research project on the other side of the world on Easter Island, he also laments his missing mentor, Andrew Black, who wrote a masterpiece and then disappeared nine years ago.
But now Andrew — and his novel Cupid’s Engine — seem to be making a return to alter Thomas’s future and perhaps even explain parts of his past.
At its core Maxwell’s Demon appears to be a literary mystery constructed by, and in dialogue with, philosophical questioning.
It is also about the act of writing — about character creation and world building and shaping.
Its DNA shares an obsession with entropy: of disorder, randomness, or uncertainty.
From another angle it could be viewed as a textual thought experiment about loss, about heartache, about grief and love through a looking glass.
The book (as a story and construct) explores the transfer of energy, through different types of doors and chambers, by hypothetical angels and devils, in order to try to find meaning in language.
Thomas, our struggling writer and soon to be detective of truth, develops an obsession with (plot) holes and (emotional) voids and what can be lost and found via the spatial known and the unknown, locked into the alphabet and across hypertexts and digital spaces.
Similar to The Raw Shark Texts, Maxwell’s Demon is fascinated how the act of writing can have the magic to alter and recontextualise the world existing on the page.
There is a lot of mystery here, but perhaps it’s best described as a mystery breathing and searching for metaphysical certainties.
It’s theoretical framework does not interrupt an enjoyable story, with pacing and intrigue flipping back and forth on a tense pendulum.
There is enough soul found in the machine for us to care about Thomas. The narrative theory and sigiconic elements that coil around his journey only add to the desperate search for meaning in a chaotic world linked by literary rabbit holes. A gripping and thought-provoking experience.
Maxwell’s Demon by Steven Hall is published by Canongate and is out now in hardback, ebook and downloadable audio.