Andrew’s Brain

E.L. Doctorow
Little Brown, £12.99
ebook, £4.35

E.L. Doctorow is an acknowledged master of American fiction, the celebrated author of Ragtime, Billy Bathgate and The Book of Daniel. His latest fictional offering, Andrew’s Brain, is a slim oddity — an entertaining and instructive blend of thought experiment, therapy session, 9/11 thriller, and political farce.

Andrew is a cognitive scientist, a brain expert who believes he has no heart and that none of us has a soul. The novel takes the form of a dialogue between Andrew and “Doc”, an unnamed shrink who seeks to defend the notion of an improvable human nature against the pitiless scientist who believes our behaviour is entirely determined by biochemistry.

In the exchange we see the key events of Andrew’s life unfold. It’s a series of tragic accidents and hapless misadventures. But the gloom is constantly undercut by Andrew’s whimsical ruminations on what it means to think, to have a personality.

Suddenly the chapters get shorter and shorter, and the meditations increasingly give way to the twists and turn of a thriller plot.

Doctorow is an effortless storyteller, and it’s all very readable and enjoyably idiosyncratic.


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