Closet Queens, Quicksand and Book of Numbers

Political peccadillos and fascinating fiction

Book of Numbers

Joshua Cohen is an American writer and the author of Witz. His latest novel, Book of Numbers, is according to the publisher’s blurb: “About the search – for love, truth and the meaning of Life with the Internet.”

So let’s start with the positives – the cover is beautiful, a circular foldout ...

Book of Numbers is the story of two Joshua Cohens. One, an author whose masterpiece happened to be released on September 11th 2001 and was overshadowed by a somewhat bigger historical event.

The other is the CEO of some Googlesque corporation called Tetration who engages the author Joshua to write his biography. Straight away this double identity is flexible: “I’m treating life like a book — like I’m the hero of my own life”.

This is a work conceived on a grand scale, the first problem is, to quote the author: “We are dealing here with a dearth of imagination”

Joshua Cohen, Book of Numbers book cover

Joshua Cohen is not uneducated, but the ideas contained within this book would struggle to support a short story, let alone an epic novel that runs to just under 600 pages.

The novel begins in Noo Yawk, before flitting to Palo Alto, Dubai, Abu Dhabi, London, Paris al. It really doesn’t matter as Joshua Cohen has no great talent as a writer, his sense of place seems lifted from travel brochures, his characters stereotypes and his humour consists of heavy handed jibes of a sexual and racial nature: “Maybe his hobby’s The Holocaust — Why not? Whose isn’t?”

There are a multitude of neologisms, including one that isn’t too bad: “Fauxgrammers”, but overall this is an overblown, great big steaming turd.

If you come from a New York, Jewish background, you might gain a little more from the intro than I did from it. If you are a nostalgist for vintage tech and retro gaming, you may appreciate more of the references than I, but neither will help you for long.

Joshua Cohen was born in 1980 and comes out with such revisionisms as: “Much too young for the hippie thing, much too old for the punk thing.” Anyone who was around at the time probably tried both, though not all will admit to it, so if Mr Cohen’s vintage tech is as accurate as his cultural references, I wouldn’t rely on them.

This is an attempt at making a grandiose novel in the tradition of Thomas Pynchon or Don DeLillo. Unfortunately the author does not possess any great ability to realise this. The concept of a history of technology superimposed on a doppelganger biography reads mostly like filler and the literary execution is dire.

Experimental? Arty? That’s the idea, but you’ll have to endure piles of trivia. The truth is that this is the worst book that I have ever reviewed, making Sophie Hannah’s lazy Agatha Christie cover version seem like a Penguin Classic.

Joshua Cohen, like many mediocrities seems intent on displaying his intellect, but has no great eye, poor editing skills and is unable to fashion a coherent whole. Book of Numbers reads like a first draft, or a bad case of logorrhoea... an unedited stream of crapulence.

Which leaves us with “The meaning of Life with the Internet”. If there is any meaning in either, it is not contained within Book of Numbers. This novel is a pretentious and inept mess, the emperor’s new prose, the portrait of an artist trapped well and truly up his own derrière. ®

Joshua Cohen, Book of Numbers book coverAuthor Joshua Cohen
Title Book of Numbers
Publisher Harvill Secker
Price £18.99 (Hardback), £9.98 (eBook)
More info Publication web site

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