A Working Theory Of Love doesn’t shy away from the big questions of life. Confronting love, life and everything in between, Hutchins pursues the elusive question of what makes us human in his debut novel.
The novel charts the life of thirty-something divorcee Neil Bassett who finds himself treading water in his bachelor life in San Francisco. A self-professed ‘practitioner of the art of falling apart on the inside while appearing catatonic’, Neil is a compulsive thinker and navel-gazer, a likeable pessimist who is glad to let go of his youth and unwilling to confront his past.
But a new job at computer programming firm Amiante awakens a few ghosts of the past as Neil is tasked with the job of creating a human-seeming computer and stumbles upon his late father’s diaries. With the nickname ‘the Samuel Pepys of the South’, the pages of Dr Bassett’s diary could hardly be filled with anything other than incoherent ramblings and quirky anecdotes. Feeding these into a computer, Neil is able to communicate with his father in an instant messaging format, as if from the grave.
As Neil seemingly chats to his dad, the computer-simulated voice becomes increasingly convincing and Hutchings uses this clever device to provoke questions of what it means to be alive. Are we simply number-encoded creatures, bundles of nerves ready to respond to whatever difficulties life throws at us? Hutchins deals with these easily overworked ideas with warmth, wit and a heavy dose of humour.
Perhaps surprisingly, the most engaging character we encounter in the novel is not the protagonist, or any of his strong of love interests, but the computer generated Dr Bassett. Witty and enigmatic, Neil’s dad seems to have an answer to everything – but will he have any answers for his son? And will Neil ever find his own working theory of love?
Whilst lacking generally in some character development, and with an ending that seems a little too perfect, Hutchins’ novel is insightful, touching and doesn’t take itself too seriously. An About A Boy for our computer-savvy generation, A Working Theory of Love tackles the ever-present problems of growing older, finding love and confronting the past.
A Working Theory of Love is available now from Penguin
words: Jessica Lane