If you’ve been keeping track you’ll notice that this was one of two books I did not manage to read for the last Tournament of Books. You may also recall that it was impossible to find in Australia. Well, Veronica is clearly just a better bookseller than I am because she tracked it down for my birthday and here I am reading it.
Ivyland is a decomposing suburb in dystopian New Jersey owned by drug company Endless Nutraceuticals. In this world, all citizens are now required to undergo an operation that prevents a mysterious illness (the operation also has regular complications) and Endless is the monopoly supplier of the anaesthetic required. (Convenient and sinister? WHY YES IT IS.) The story is told in fragments by different characters, ranging forwards and backwards in time to create a picture of murder, societal collapse and drug use. It’s disorienting, complicated and often circular. But each story fragment managed both to further my understanding of the weird world of Ivyland and provide understated moments of human interaction. Everyone in Ivyland is constantly failing to connect, failing to communicate and generally failing to be happy. It’s actually a very sad novel.
Some of the characters are addicted to the Endless drug, some have more fleeting experiences with it and some have been incapacitated by it. The jagged story seems to mimic the effects of the drug itself: the mess of timelines and characters generates confusion of causal links, confusion of characters, sudden shifts from distance to closeness and back again, moments of aimless static and moments of sparkling clarity. But even so it always remains remarkably readable and it stands out as one of the more formally interesting books I’ve read this year.