Wednesday, 13 February 2013
The Universe versus Alex Woods
This was why I decided to read The Universe versus Alex Woods. One of the Waterstones 11, I was between books and suggestible. I began the first chapter and was optimistic; Gavin Extence's beginning convinced me that this was one I wanted to see through, with tension and intrigue from page one. I couldn't wait to find out what happened.
Unfortunately, I just didn't get on very well with Alex Woods after this.
There were definite signs of promise. The story was event-led at the beginning, from Alex's arrest as a 17-year-old to the incident when he was hit by a meteor fragment in his younger years. This episode changed the course of his life, putting him a year behind his peers at school and causing his epilepsy. Alex is an outsider, and his struggle was proving an interesting tale.
Then Alex meets Mr Peterson, and starts to grow up. The elderly Vietnam veteran becomes his closest friend. So close that, when the pair receive some bad news, Alex realises how far he'll go to help his friend fulfil his wishes.
For me, the book was quite inconsistent. It felt there were distinct segments of the novel; Alex's youth and distance from his peers felt very different from the section where he forms a close bond with Mr Peterson. How they fused together was a struggle for me. At one point I actually forgot the bit about meteors had any relation to the bits where Alex and Mr Peterson are on their final journey, and too many bits had happened between the first chapter and the loop it fills at the end.
I also didn't particularly believe the characters, nor warm to them. Alex's naivety at the beginning did not wash for me later in the story. It's proven to readers that Alex is clearly very well read, but has what felt like silly gaps in his knowledge of culture. For example, when he is in a hotel described as having art deco interiors, there is an apparent need for him to narrate, "art deco turned out to be the name of the strange modern-antique style of furniture in the rooms". It felt unnecessary and just irritated me. Similarly, Alex feels the need to tell us "I hadn't read War and Peace, but I understood what Mr Peterson meant: War and Peace was extraordinarily long". Again, this just felt needless.
Other characters in the story just felt like a collection of stereotypes. No nonsense, pacifist war vet Mr Peterson. "Out there" witch mum. Feisty swearing teen Ellie. You get the picture. There was a bit more depth in the last section; but at this stage I was just focused on finishing and getting to my next book.
It's a real shame as I wanted to like this title. It has great reviews on Goodreads and Amazon, so perhaps it's just me and I didn't get it. On the basis of this I'd say give it a try; it just really wasn't for me. Not my favourite rush hour read I'm afraid.