October 10, 2016

Three Years with the Rat - Jay Hosking

Penguin Random House, August 9, 2016.

Four Stars

Three Years with the Rat is the story of an unnamed narrator who is dealing with the loss of his sister and, soon after, her boyfriend – both Grace and John have disappeared suddenly, leaving only a few ominous clues to their whereabouts. When the narrator goes to their apartment to clean it out, he finds a former lab rat named Buddy, a mysterious human-sized box, and a note that says “This is the only way back for us.” If he can figure out the connection between them, these may be the clues he needs to find his sister and his friend, in whatever dimension they have disappeared into.

Meanwhile, the novel flashes back to several years previous, when the narrator has just arrived in Toronto and joined his sister’s circle of friends. He meets troubled chef Nicole, and they begin a rocky yet passionate relationship, marred by Grace’s disapproval. Grace starts to push everyone away, beginning with Nicole and ending with her own boyfriend John. While she has always been acerbic, her moodiness is now veering into sudden rages, mainly directed at John. When she goes missing, John becomes a prime suspect due to their tumultuous relationship.

Grace is a grad student in the field of psychophysics – the branch of psychology that deals with physical stimuli and its effects on our mental perceptions. Grace and John’s experiments with Buddy and their mysterious box are an exploration of alternate dimensions, and as the narrator plays with these elements, his own reality begins to change. The novel questions the nature of time and its adaptability, as well as considering the alternative selves that we all carry within us – the choices we make and the possibilities of what could have been.

This subject matter is clearly very ambitious, and it is treated well by Hosking, who has a Ph.D. in neuroscience. However, the plot was often bogged down by scientific asides, which made it not as exciting as it could have been, considering the subject matter. It’s difficult not to compare it to a similar novel that was published this summer – Blake Crouch’s Dark Matter. While that novel was more pop-culture speculative fiction, this one has more authentic science, but it is at the expense of plot and character. Three Years with the Rat is intellectually stimulating, but it doesn’t always ring true on a human level – the characters are undeveloped and lacking in realism. I still really enjoyed this novel, and it definitely made me think.

I received this novel from Penguin Random House and NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

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