Tuesday 7 May 2024

The Other Valley by Scott Alexander Howard #TheOtherValley #ScottAlexanderHoward @AtlanticBooks #BookReview


For fans of Emily St John Mandel and Kazuo Ishiguro, an exhilarating literary speculative novel about an isolated town neighboured by its own past and future, and a young girl who faces an impossible choice...

A literary speculative novel about an isolated town neighbored by its own past and future

Sixteen-year-old Odile is an awkward, quiet girl vying for a coveted seat on the Conseil. If she earns the position, she’ll decide who may cross her town’s heavily guarded borders. On the other side, it’s the same valley, the same town--except to the east, the town is twenty years ahead in time. To the west, it’s twenty years behind. The towns repeat in an endless sequence across the wilderness.

When Odile recognizes two visitors she wasn’t supposed to see, she realizes that the parents of her friend Edme have been escorted across the border from the future, on a mourning tour, to view their son while he’s still alive in Odile’s present. Edme––who is brilliant, funny, and the only person to truly see Odile––is about to die. Sworn to secrecy in order to preserve the timeline, Odile now becomes the Conseil’s top candidate, yet she finds herself drawing closer to the doomed boy, imperiling her entire future.

The Other Valley by Scott Alexander Howard was published in hardback on 18 April 2024 by Atlantic Books. My thanks to the publisher who sent my copy for review. 

I adore speculative fiction, I think, if pushed, I'd say it was my favourite genre and this debut from the incredibly talented Scott Alexander Howard is so brilliantly done. It is like nothing I've read before, a mix of beautiful lyrical literary prose with a unique premise that creates questions for the reader. 

Before I go further, I have to let you know that there are no speech marks in this book. I didn't actually notice this when reading, it was only when I went back to find a quote that I realised. I know that some people really dislike a lack of speech marks, that is why I mention it, but honestly, for me, it made no difference at all. 

Sixteen year old Odile Ozanne is the lead character and narrator of this novel. It is her mother's dearest wish that Odile becomes an apprentice in the Conseil, most people who know her think that this is her destiny, that she's the perfect candidate. 

The Conseil is a committe of trained people who give permission for residents to travel to the two neighbouring valleys.  There are three identical communities, in three valleys. Odile's community is in the middle valley. The valley to the east is twenty years in the future, and to the west it is twenty years in the past. It's a forbidden, dangerous journey to travel to another valley, and applications must be made to the Conseil. Applicants must have genuine reasons to travel, and the Conseil must be sure that they will do nothing whilst there to interfere with what has happened, or may happen. 

Odile glances a couple of visitors to her valley. They are easily identifiable as people from the other valley, escorted by guards and wearing masks. Residents are told not to look, but it's too late for Odile. She recognises them, and also then realises that her dear friend Edme is going to die. Odile knows that she can do nothing to stop this, but what a painful place to be in. 

The second part of the book finds an older Odile. She's not in the place that I as a reader expected, although I think it's the place that she feels that she deserves. The contrast between the early Odile and the more mature one is startling, even her surroundings seem darker and more cruel. The people she meets are fickle and unreliable, and yet, she is still so strong willed despite her fragility. 

This is a difficult book to review as the plot is so complex, yet absolutely finely and delicately structured. It is full of moral questions, it is a love story but is not romantic. The reader is shown so many dilemmas, so many questions to answer, so many ways that the story could move forward. There are times that it is so heart-felt and so poignant that it brought a lump to my throat. 

Just phenomenal, unique and quite stunning. Highly recommended

Scott Alexander Howard has a PhD in philosophy from the University of Toronto, where he wrote an award-winning dissertation on literary emotions and the passage of time. 

His articles have appeared in journals such as Philosophical Quarterly and Analysis. 

Upon completing a postdoctoral fellowship at Harvard, he decided to pursue fiction. 

He now lives in Vancouver.

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