cover image The Future Future

The Future Future

Adam Thirlwell. Farrar, Straus and Giroux, $28 (352p) ISBN 978-0-374-60763-0

Thirlwell (Lurid & Cute) delivers an enigmatic novel of ideas set largely in revolutionary France with excursions into the future. After Celine, 19, is maligned in a series of pornographic pamphlets, she reinvents herself by founding a literary salon. The pages that follow trace Celine’s travels through the decades, across the Atlantic to the nascent United States, and even, for one particularly disorienting interlude, to the moon in the year 2251. This is only the most obvious form of time travel Thirlwell’s narrative employs, however; throughout, the use of anachronistic language (Celine’s husband is a “fascist” and her clothing is “punk”; the narrator compares education to taking over a “disused gas station”) creates the sensation of being unmoored from time. The narrative voice is reserved and analytical, at odds with the whimsy of the linguistic choices. The almost sterile tone, combined with the characters’ repeated musings about what, exactly, the point is, may have readers echoing such sentiments. Thirlwell offers moments of insight, particularly when touching on the persistence of misogyny throughout history and the intersections of gender and language, but these are obscured by a narrative that feels both aimless and almost deliberately opaque. This strange outing provokes and frustrates in equal measure. Agent: Melanie Jackson, Melanie Jackson Agency. (Oct.)