The Anomaly is one of the pandemic novels you might’ve missed when it came out in 2020. It was published in the original French (L’Anomalie), then translated into English by Adriana Hunter. It’s kind of a sci-fi thriller meets philosophical novel, and it’s a weird one.

The Anomaly - Herve Le Tellier - Keeping Up With The Penguins
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So, as per the blurb: “During a terrifying storm, Air France 006 – inexplicably – duplicates… one plane lands in March, the other doesn’t arrive until June.” Straight off the bat, The Anomaly has some Lost vibes. There’s a plane-related mishap, of course, but also a wide cast of characters, each of whom has an intriguing/troubling back-story. There’s a hit man on board, a translator, a film editor, a traumatised child, a Nigerian hip-hop artist, and so on. The only thing that really connects them all is that they ended up on this plane and it randomly copied itself mid-flight.

I’m going to give you the trigger warnings I wish I’d had before I read The Anomaly: there is a dog death straight away, on page three, without any chance to prepare yourself. That in itself was almost enough to ruin the rest of it for me. There’s also some murder, violence, and child abuse, and I suppose it might also be triggering for anyone who’s afraid of flying. Just so you know!

Anyway, alongside the stories of the passengers runs the story of the scientist charged with figuring out how and why Air France 006 produced an identical copy of itself mid-air. Adrian Miller is a kind-of bumbling statistician who was charged with developing protocols to manage government responses to aircraft incidents post-9/11. He was asked to develop a protocol for what to do if none of the other protocols applied, and he was so sure that such a scenario could never happen, that this “alternative” protocol was “call Adrian Miller”. Sure enough, the situation in The Anomaly sees this protocol put into effect.

There are some fun moments, pithy one liners that jump of the page. I like how le Tellier customised Tolstoy with “All smooth flights are alike. Every turbulent flight is turbulent in its own way,” (page 43). I also got a chuckle out of: “Freedom of thought on the internet is all the more complete now that it’s clear that people have stopped thinking,” (page 301).

Mostly, though, The Anomaly is brain-bending stuff – scientifically, spiritually, and philosophically. le Tellier covers a lot of ground very quickly, rather than focusing on any one aspect of the mystery in depth. One minute, he’s treating Air France 006 as evidence that we’re all living in a simulation, then it’s God sending us a message, then the plane fell through a wormhole… The character I related to most was throughout the whole thing was the baffled President, who just nodded along with what everyone was saying and tried desperately to look like he was keeping up.

It’s a fascinating premise, but The Anomaly never quite achieves lift off, in my view. I would have liked to see one or two characters, and/or one or two of the philosophical questions raised by the conceit, addressed in depth. As it stands, le Tellier took a light, broad strokes approach, which might appeal to others but didn’t really work for me.

le Tellier has announced that a television adaptation is in the works, and fans of Lost should definitely watch that. I wouldn’t necessarily recommend rushing out to read The Anomaly first, though. It’s fine, just skippable, and maybe it will be more resonant on screen.

My favourite Amazon reviews of The Anomaly:

  • “I’ve wasted enough time with this book; no sense in wasting more time reviewing it.” – Kindle Customer
  • “I’m sorry I bought this book. Just a couple pages into it is a graphic description of a dog hit by a car. I don’t want to read things like that! I don’t care what it contributes to the story. When will novel writers learn that YOU DON”T KILL THE DOG, or any other pet for that matter.” – bethweiser
  • “Lost its excitement midway into story and got confusing of who was who at end because so much of wasted time on scientist that didn’t even solve anything.” – Tmumble