Reviews > Published on February 18th, 2014

Bookshots: 'Coincidence' by J.W. Ironmonger

Bookshots: Pumping new life into the corpse of the book review


Coincidence: A Novel

Who wrote it:

From page one, I was interested, but by the end of the second chapter, I was absorbed.

J.W. Ironmonger, a British software consultant and possibly one of the only Europeans to see a wild Javan rhino.

Plot in a Box:

Thomas Post is an academic who believes all coincidence can be explained, until he meets Azalea Lewis, whose life events defy logic.

Invent a new title for this book:

The Birthday Gull

Read this if you like:

In the Woods by Tana French, or Life After Life by Kate Atkinson

Meet the book's lead(s):

Thomas Post, a gangly academic in his thirties and Azalea Lewis, a redheaded woman who was abandoned mysteriously as a child.

Said lead(s) would be portrayed in a movie by:

I don’t know why, but Tom Hanks comes to mind for Post, and maybe a younger Nicole Kidman for Azalea.

Setting: Would you want to live there?

Part of the story takes place in a village on the Isle of Man in the late seventies, which seems quaint if a little stifling.

What was your favorite sentence?

Hitsuzen is an event that happens according to some preordained plan or design. Something that was always supposed to happen.

The Verdict:

Coincidence is an intriguing novel on a conceptual level. First published in the United Kingdom as The Coincidence Authority, Ironmonger structures the plot around a series of dots that the reader must connect in order to view a full picture. Novels tend to naturally do this, of course (at least, most of them do) but in Coincidence, all patterns are worth noting. It’s the kind of book that appears to be designed to make readers think; not an easy task to pull off when done so conscientiously.

Although certain elements occasionally feel a bit forced as a result, the story itself is enjoyable enough to ignore these moments. Not to mention, Ironmonger isn’t entirely unsuccessful — it’s hard to read Coincidence and not puzzle over its themes. The story prompts a rather complex question: can the single, miniscule movement of a bird change several human lives forever?  

One of the best qualities a suspense novel can possess is a sense of deepening as the pages turn, as opposed to the outcome becoming more obvious. From page one, I was interested, but by the end of the second chapter, I was absorbed. Ironmonger’s language is frank; it’s not about elaborate prose, but small details, such as how a character holds a walking stick or drums fingers on a chair. Using this technique, Coincidence forms characters that are, for the most part, well-developed and engaging, if just a little bit cliché at times (particularly the scatterbrained academic).

Overall, Coincidence deserves credit for a highly ambitious plot and a strong thread of humanism that presents itself in warm characters and a vivid portrait of Uganda in the 80s and 90s, where a portion of the plot takes place. Slightly uneven in places, Coincidence is always earnest and admittedly a bit ingenious. Ironmonger likes to step outside of the box, if the premise of his earlier novel, The Notable Brain of Maximilian Ponder is any indication. Hopefully, American publishers will be releasing more of his work in the near future.  

About the author

Leah Dearborn is a Boston-based writer with a bachelor’s degree in journalism and a master’s degree in international relations from UMass Boston. She started writing for LitReactor in 2013 while paying her way through journalism school and hopping between bookstore jobs (R.I.P. Borders). In the years since, she’s written articles about everything from colonial poisoning plots to city council plans for using owls as pest control. If it’s a little strange, she’s probably interested.

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