The danger of trying to review Strange Bodies by Marcel Theroux is that I’ll reveal too much. To call it a literary thriller does this novel no justice, as it strives to cross many genres. This is the story of Dr. Nicholas Slopen, a Samuel Johnson scholar, as told by his university girlfriend Susanna, who runs into him years later. He didn’t look quite the same, but everyone ages, right? But it turns out that the Slopen died months before. The former girlfriend finds a memory stick that contains faux-Slopen’s strange tale and this sets up the beginning of the novel, a story that relies on Samuel Johnson, a Poe-esque plot about dead people inhabiting live bodies, and a lot of suspension of disbelief. Theroux’s rich writing and the slow reveal of the story make it easy to suspend disbelief.
Theroux’s novel explores the concepts of identity and memory. What does human consciousness mean? Can it be coded and transferred? And if so, what makes it different from the original? Through it all, the book bristles with so many excellently written sentences that you won’t blink even when the final twist is revealed.
In a recent NPR interview, Theroux had this to say: “I suppose one of the things I wanted to do in the book was celebrate the act of reading, which is such a mysterious and not sufficiently remarked upon transaction between two consciousnesses, only one of which needs to be alive.” There is such a great deal of reading and talk about literature in this novel, tucked in amongst the thriller plot, that the book defies categorization. Luckily for us, Theroux is still alive, so our consciousnesses will have ample time to commune again in future books.