Book Talk: COINCIDENCE, by J.W. Ironmonger

COINCIDENCE Ironmonger IndieboundCoincidence: A Novel
(previously published in the UK as The Coincidence Authority)
J.W. Ironmonger
Harper Perennial (2014), Paperback (ISBN 0062309897 / 9780062309891)
Fiction, 304 pages
Source: ARC from the publisher, via TLC Book Tours 

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discussion of Coincidence. I received a copy of the book to facilitate this post, but was not otherwise compensated for participation in this blog tour.

Comments: I like this novel’s original title, The Coincidence Authority, a little better than the title it’s been given for its US publication. Coincidence sounds a bit…well, softer, more philosophical and meditative, and doesn’t really prepare you as well for the fast-paced suspense tale that you’ll actually find here. (The publisher’s actual description, linked below, does a much better job of that.)

That said, I should note that Coincidence does hang on a central theme of philosophical debate: Is the world random? Do we truly have free will, or is what we do part of a predetermined plan? Are “coincidences” a product of a human need to ascribe meaning and connection to events, or do they have inherent meaning of their own?

The novel’s original title refers to Dr. Thomas Post, an expert on coincidence–that is, an expert in applying the mathematical calculations to prove that most “coincidences” probably really aren’t. But Azalea Lewis’ life has had a string of tragic occurrences connected by their common dates–June 21, in years ending in 2. She needs Thomas to prove to her that there’s no greater significance to them–because if they do mean something, her own death may be less than a year away.

The debate Coincidence poses, and which Thomas and Azalea engage in over and over again, is one that fascinates me, but it’s the story that makes this book a fast and engrossing read. J.W. Ironmonger’s narrative shifts between present and past, recounting Azalea’s shocking past as it builds toward an outcome that Thomas may unable to prevent. I’m not that fast a reader these days, and by my standards, I blew through this novel–and I don’t want to tell you too much more about that narrative, since I’d like you to go into this one pretty much unspoiled.

It can be challenging for plot and philosophy to coexist in fiction without getting in one another’s way, but Ironmonger has pulled it off here. Coincidence has the makings of a great book-club pick–a story compelling enough to read, resting on ideas that are sure to fuel discussion.

Rating: 3.75 / 5
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Book description, via the publisher’s website:

What determines the course of our lives? Chance . . . or destiny?
On Midsummer’s Day, 1982, three-year-old Azalea Ives is found alone at a seaside fairground.
One year later, her mother’s body washes up on a beach—her link to Azalea unnoticed.
On Midsummer’s Day, 1992, her adoptive parents are killed in a Ugandan rebel uprising; Azalea is narrowly rescued by a figure from her past.
Terrified that she, too, will meet her fate on Midsummer’s Day, Azalea approaches Thomas Post, an expert in debunking coincidences. Azalea’s past, he insists, is random—but as Midsummer’s Day approaches, he worries that she may bring fate upon herself.

Opening lines:

“On Midsummer’s Day 1982, when she was only three years old, the girl they called Azalea Ives was discovered alone and lost at a fairground in Devon. It was late in the evening, when children of her age should surely have been at home, tucked up in bed. She was held in the fairground manager’s caravan for an hour, or even more, while appeals were made over loudspeakers. This was a traveling fair, and we can imagine what a faint impression the public address system might have made against the caterwauling of shrieking teens, the thundering of the waltzer, the hollering of hawkers and hucksters, and the pounding basslines of fairground music. By ten o’clock when the noise had subsided, and when most of the revelers had dispersed into the night, no one had come to claim the little girl.”

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