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Diane Awerbuck

@ Sunday Times Books LIVE

Tied Up in a Crisis: A Review of Entanglement by Steven Boykey Sidley

EntanglementSteven Sidley’s difficult but brilliant character, Jared Borowitz, bids for happiness with mixed success

Parcelling out unsolicited advice, relentlessly dominating conversation, slavering over any female under the age of 30 – meet Jared Borowitz, “charismatic physicist” and aging star of Entanglement.

It is an understatement to say that Borowitz is full of himself.

It is a wonder that he is able to share a bed with the saintly Katherine at all: his head needs its own apartment. Smart he may be but, well into his teaching career, he is still unable to tell the basic difference between intellect and wisdom.

Entanglement details his wordy journey from the former to the latter, and from nigh nihilism to warm humanism.

The title itself is a term from quantum theory: Einstein called entanglement “spooky action at a distance.”

In its most simplistic sense, it is the predictable correlation between isolated particles of energy or matter, regardless of their proximity. In a narrative context, Steven Sidley means characters’ cause-and-effect behaviour, the basic tenet of any plot. Borowitz is in the throes of a mid-life crisis.

As a reader, it’s hard to care about a man who’s “[e]nvied by the whole physics community. Good research, good university, respect of your peers, tenure, minor celebrity, grant money and delectable girlfriend.”

He travels to London to visit his old mentor, a world-famous physicist, who’s on his death bed.

He is surprised to realise that he has been under a misapprehension all along, and that the meaning of life is “not to be right, but to be happy”.

Afterwards, the depressed Borowitz is on the Underground when a gang of hooligans harasses the passengers. A life-long coward, he finally punches a boy in flight from the carriage and finds that he quite likes this particular sort of power, too.

Back home, his social group goes on a weekend away in the country – think The Decameron meets Deliverance – where the unlikely Barbara, a girl with the sex drive of a German tourist in a shebeen, provokes the attentions of a psychopath.

Nicknamed “Dostoevsky” by Borowitz, the man rustles up a side-kick and follows them back to their rented house to exact revenge. In a narrative twist, the “pornographic” and “peristaltic” Barbara plumps to have sex with her attacker and they disappear upstairs.

In the event, it turns out that Katherine is the real hero of Entanglement. In a plot-dump on the final pages, it emerges that she knows sign language, and can thus communicate with the deaf-mute partner of their murderous attacker. This is fortunate: Borowitz, fresh from his testosterone-fuelled triumph on the Tube, is trying to burn the chap’s penis off with a lighter.

There is some humour, which serves to expose Borowitz’s hubris. He only reads male authors because women writers “lack muscularity”.

When Sidley avoids mixed metaphors and malapropisms, and says very simply what he means, his style can be pointed and passionate: “We are machines, formed by genetics and unpredictable and arbitrary external events; we possess neither will nor control and therefore moral certainty is a myth, a human concept moulded to assuage a frightened and bewildered species [sic].”

Spooky action at a distance, indeed.

This review is brought to you by Books LIVE Wire. Books LIVE Wire books sponsored by Exclusive Books.

 

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