Book review #2 : Zig Zag by José Carlos Somoza (2006)

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Funny story, I did not know José Carlos Somoza at all, and I stumbled upon his book entitled Zig Zag (La Théorie des Cordes in French) by chance. I was at the library, looking to buy new books and I heard a conversation between a seller and her client, to whom she was recommending this book described as a dark thriller mixed with physics and maths. I have to say, I know nothing about those two fields, but I enjoy reading or watching a movie about them when it’s not too complicated. Anyways, intrigued by the discussion, I ran toward the book to read the cover page in order to have more information. Satisfied, I bought it and finished reading it in only three days.

Here’s the story :

Isolated on an atoll in the Indian ocean, the best physicists of the world work on an ambitious project based on the string theory, which is supposed to make it possible to “open the time”. If they manage to observe the past of humanity, the scientists quickly realize that this program, financed by mysterious private funds, might be used for evil purposes. An accident leads to the immediate suspension of the researches, scattering the team trying to play God. Ten years later, Elisa Robledo, brilliant physicist, feels that she is in danger. With her old teammates, she goes back to the origin of the tragedy, on this atoll, where they profaned timed. 

Zig Zag is a surprising novel. During the writing, José Carlos Somoza talked with many scientists in order to ensure the coherence of the mathematical and physic hypothesis used in his book. Despite the fact that he addresses topics that might seem really difficult to understand at first, the author managed to make them understandable even for the neophyte thanks to his simple and light writing style. As I said, I knew basically nothing about the string theory, but I ended up getting caught in the story after only a few pages. don’t be afraid that you will not manage to understand what’s going on or follow the story.

Another positive element in this book are the characters. Often disappointed by protagonists that are too often black or white (a nice guy, a bad guy), and secondary characters too empty, I was pleasantly surprised to discover a whole range of different  and complex personalities. Each character has his own traits, his past, his secrets. The reader is successively inclined to like then doubt each person, and vice versa. The border between good and evil is made blurrier and blurrier page after page with verve.

The use of numerous flashbacks added to the fact that what’s happening on the atoll is a closed-door story allow Somoza to make its characters evolve more quickly, and to give them even more complexity. Besides, (no spoiler), but a special award must be attributed to the bad guy of the book, the mysterious killer. The author’s imagination climaxes in the hidden identity of this killer, and whose revelation will cause a twist which will catch the reader off-guard.

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The denouement  of the story happens within the last 90 pages of this 600-page long book, and yet, the intrigue is kept alive throughout the whole novel, without any struggle. Again, the flashbacks made it possible according to me. I found their use really relevant and easy to follow, but I have to confess that I love a book or a movie with a non linear plot.

Here, it’s a flashback that brings us into the heart of the mystery because the story begins with the protagonist, Elisa Robledo, physicist in Madrid. While reading an article in a newspaper that caught her eye, she receive a phone call that shakes her, and brings her back to a terrible past experience on an atoll in the Indian ocean, where she worked on the string theory. With this first flashback, José Carlos Somoza dives into the story by laying the foundations for the ready : how and why Elisa was recruited, with whom, what did her job consist in… until everything ran out of control.

Considered as a sci-fi book, this book is a terrifying thriller with a surprising efficacy. Dread is palpable, the mystery gets thicker and thicker. The author even risks using a more horrific writing style in the second part of the book which creates an even more pressing atmosphere, and also, from a more technical point of view, enable to diversify the writing.

This second part of the book appears to be a sort of whole new book inside the first one. In this new section, the horror settles in. For good. Close your eyes, and you are on the atoll. Zig Zag is here, and watches. Watches YOU. Hemoglobin finds its place and punctuates quite generously the novel from then on. This revived tension, those mysterious deaths may remind you of a gorier And Then There Were None to a certain extent. Do not try to escape, you will not be able to. The insomnia experienced by the scientists on the island is contagious…

Finally, Zig Zag is not just about physics or maths. Paleontologist, psychologist, theologians, soldiers are part of the team too. In reality, this book tackles history, psychology, sickness, politics, sociologie and even religion. Indeed, the mysticism encompasses each page of this captivating thriller where everything goes out of control very quickly ! The scientific experiments are an open door to a downward spiral : being able to observe the past becomes possible, and the curiosity of every one kindles since everything seems possible : seeing the dinosaurs ? Seeing Jerusalem in 33 ? Yes, but not without consequences…

In conclusion, a brilliant thriller that I was not able to stop reading until it was finished. I discovered and was frightened at the same time as the characters – I strongly encourage you not to read this book at 3AM in the morning like I might have done. I rarely am so thrilled by a book, but José Carlos Somoza managed to make me want to discover his other works !

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