Book of the Week: Coincidence – J.W. Ironmonger

This is a story of ideas drawn with a light touch. In house, it drew comparisons to the mega-hit One Day for the charming, fated romance of the protagonists. But in reading—and loving—Coincidence, I found that comp is less than the sum of its parts. This is the story of Azalea, an apparently ill-fated young woman who has lost both parent and step-parent on her midsummer birthday and increasingly feels that her life is a series of coincidences pointing to her own death. Thomas Post is a university researcher whose work focuses on using statistics to disprove coincidence. They have an instant connection (random event or fate?) and the story follows them as they sort out what their future might become.

While a romance is at the heart of the story, Ironmonger is has bigger fish to fry; this warm-hearted comic story is also concerned with ideas of fate, free will and justice. The author was born and raised in East Africa and much of the story takes place in Uganda. The reader is treated to a gorgeous, vivid sense of that place. Ironmonger’s complicated love of Africa is on full display in a plot thread that involves Joseph Kony and the child soldiers the monster pressed into service.

Ironmonger’s previous novel, The Notable Brain of Maximilian Ponder, was shortlisted for the Costa First Novel Prize and The Guardian’s Not the Booker Prize. His work falls squarely into the vein of darkly comic fiction like The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time and The Death of Bees—books that beguile and amuse but ultimately take readers down some very thought provoking roads.

Playful, inventive, and fast-paced, Coincidence sweeps you up and carries you along on a thrilling ride from England to Africa and back. Spinning theories and spilling revelations, its characters ponder weighty questions: fate vs. free will, rationalism vs. serendipity, synchronicity vs. random chance. But the droll, sharp-witted narrator spins this tale with the lightest of touches, all the way to its perfect ending. I adored this book.”
— Christina Baker Kline, author of Orphan Train

“Ironmonger spins another nimble tale. . . It’s a feat of cleverness. . . A fast, captivating read.”
Kirkus Reviews

“A haunting, lyrical meditation on how fates are woven together, for better or worse.”
— Simon Van Booy, author of The Illusion of Separateness

“This is an absorbing and unusual novel suffused with intelligence, charm and humanity.”
The Bookseller

Much of the action takes place in Uganda in the 1980s and 90s, and the author is particularly good at describing the country’s beauty, as well as its horrors. It perhaps feels a little too inevitable that the infamous Joseph Kony and his army of child soldiers should play a big part in the plot, but Ironmonger’s rage and sadness still made me catch my breath. There are passages memorable both for the telling detail and the sharp overview”
— The Guardian

“Ironmonger takes the reader on an amazing journey from rural England to Uganda and back again. Is it pure coincidence that turns Azalea Ives into Azalea Foley and then Azalea Lewis? Or is Azalea the victim of a profound plan? Read this brainy, delightful novel and decide for yourself.”
— Margot Livesey, author of The Flight of Gemma Hardy

Coincidence (9780062309891) by J.W. Ironmonger. $14.99 trade paper original. 2/18/14 on sale.

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