Published: 17th January 2017
Genre: Fiction, Contemporary
‘A true storyteller: her characters are alive’ Christos Tsiolkas, author of The Slap‘Wonderful; a beautifully written, heart-breaking novel’S J Watson, author of Before I Go to Sleep
‘Genuinely difficult to put down’ Graeme Simsion, author of The Rosie Project‘I tore through it’ Courtney Collins, author of The Burial
‘An affecting, gripping debut novel about the nature of family and identity’Mail on Sunday
Ethan is an exceptionally gifted young boy, obsessed with physics and astronomy.His single mother Claire is fiercely protective of her brilliant, vulnerable son. But she can’t shield him forever from learning the truth about what happened to him when he was a baby; why Mark had to leave them all those years ago.
Now age twelve, Ethan is increasingly curious about his past, especially his father’s absence in his life. When he intercepts a letter to Claire from Mark, he opens a lifetime of feelings that, like gravity, will pull the three together again.Relativity is a tender and triumphant story about unbreakable bonds, irreversible acts, and testing the limits of love and forgiveness.
I will begin this review by saying this book was completely out of my reading comfort zone. I don’t read a lot of adult fiction which doesn’t fall into the category of romance (seriously, I’ve taken a look through my shelves and I really don’t). I wasn’t completely certain of what to expect going in. The book’s summary reveals little (so I won’t elaborate too much, either) and just leaves you knowing the story revolves around Ethan and his mom and his father, Mark, who he knows little about. It was so different to my usual books yet exactly the kind of book I enjoy reading. Nothing is as you expect in it and it raises so many questions.
Even this I’m not sure I want to say, but this book taught me a few things about myself. That may sound strange but the story between Claire and Ethan and why Claire split with Mark, Ethan's father, is a complex one. It deals with a serious subject and so many secrets are kept until the end of the book that there is continually doubt about what happened. As such, I realised I am an optimist who wants to believe the best in people. I wanted to believe the best in Mark and I didn't realise I was such an optimist. I almost cast Claire as the bad guy in my mind, reaching judgements because that’s what others had told her to believe. Even when I was casting her as the villain, though, I was sympathising with her plight and understanding she was in a difficult position all along. I didn’t agree with her decisions, even at the end of the book, but I understood why she made them.
I think that’s one thing which is really great about this book. Each of the characters is a fully realised person with flaws and bad decision-making skills, but you understand why they make the choices they do. You can empathise with their situation and even when you want to judge them you can’t because you get them. I mean, Claire makes bad choices but she does them out of love. She adored Ethan more than anything and only wants to help him have the best kind of life, as any mother wants for their child. She wants to help him avoid getting hurt, even if that ends up hurting him later on. Then there’s Ethan who is just 12 years old and even though he is some kind of science whizz kid, he’s still a kid making silly choices like going places without telling his mother, hiding things, and getting into fights at school. He is flawed and though I wanted to scold him like a naughty child I couldn’t say I wouldn’t make the same decisions too. And then there is Mark, who we don’t get to meet immediately and know little about. I felt bad for him. The entire way through the book I really felt bad for him. It seems he got a raw deal and got left alone and it seems unfair. You grow to like him as the book progresses, he seems like a nice guy and you care for him. The fact you can understand and like all these characters when each of them is giving you reasons not to is just astounding.
I did find reading about science a bit boring, though. I get Ethan is a science genius and that Mark was studying theoretical physics for his PhD but I find science so boring. My brain just fails to compute it well despite my three GCSEs in the subject. I felt like I was getting a physics lesson throughout this book. So much of the science went over my head it was unbelievable. Physics was definitely my weakest science subject at school, I could never fully grasp it even with my good maths understanding. So reading the science in this book was difficult. The times Ethan goes off about one science concept or another had my brain switching off a little bit. Some may say that means I didn't enjoy the book but in fact, the skilful writing meant that even if I had to skim read a science-y bit I was fully engrossed in the story itself.
The thing with this book is you get both Mark, Claire, and Ethan's POV and it is difficult to dislike any of them so when you're dealing with the difficult subject matter of this book it's hard. I want to believe the best and say Claire is at fault yet at the same time I hate Mark and all he has done as well. I can understand why he did what he did and I understand why he acted as he did and yet I hate him. I also hate Claire and all the secrets she has kept for so long. She is also in the wrong. The only character I like regardless is Ethan because he is stuck in the middle, but even then he kept acting like a dumb kid, but he is so it’s ok. In the end, I enjoyed this book even with my mixed feelings. It seems like a book which sticks with you for a while. It's not one I'll easily forget.
Also, did I mention it was set in Australia? Love a book which isn't in the US or the UK.
What was your most recent read outside of your usual comfort zone and did you enjoy it? And have you read Relativity, what were your thoughts?