The Universe Versus Alex Woods

By Gavin Extence

Rating: 3 stars

This isn’t the sort of book I would normally read, but a friend loaned it to me, saying that she thought I’d enjoy it. Through a series of unlikely events, a teenager ends up becoming friends with an old man, and this book charts their friendship. Despite the differences, it’s hard not to compare this to A Man Called Ove. Both feature grumpy old men whose lives change when they let others in. But this book doesn’t reach the same heights for me as the other. It felt a few times like it was trying too hard to press my emotional buttons, whereas Ove did it without me noticing at all.

Our protagonist here is young Alex Woods, who survived being struck by a meteorite and developed epilepsy as a result. The book does a good job in showing the terrible unfairness of childhood, when you have no agency, any signs of being different is a reason to be bullied, and you don’t have the words to explain your inner life to those around you, especially not to adults.

We get much less of of the inner life of Mr Peterson here, the old gent that Alex befriends. He’s more of a plot device than a character. The same is probably true of most of the other characters in the book.

I had to skip most of the bit with the book in the bus, with the bullies. When he took the first Edition Vonnegut on to the bus I could pretty much write the rest myself. As a book lover, who’s also had some experience of being bullied, that whole sequence hurt.

Despite that, it’s a very readable book, I got through it in short order, and it kept my attention throughout.

Aside: I had to chuckle to myself at the universally horrified reaction to Alex’s (one-off) use of the “worst word in the world”. You should come to Glasgow, pal. It’s almost just punctuation up here.

Book details

ISBN: 9781444765892
Publisher: Hodder & Stoughton
Year of publication: 2013

Powered by WordPress