This novel opens with a prologue by a woman who has just had an encounter with a long-ago boyfriend. She is glad to see him until she recalls
reading of his death in a motor accident several months before. Yet he is definitely the man she remembers. He knows the little anecdotes of their relationship, what they were eating when an event occurred, the weather when they were on an outing, conversations they had when alone. His name is Nicolas Slopen and he gives no explanation for the fact that he is considered dead. He leaves her with a flash drive; when it is opened, a strange story unravels.
Dr. Nicolas Slopen is an academic; his specialty the life of Samuel Johnson as documented by his cohort, Boswell. Slopen is intrigued when he is approached by a rich musician who has taken up the hobby of acquiring first editions and literary trophies. The man has a packet of letters he wants Slopen to authenticate as the work of Johnson. At first glance, the letters seem authentic but are totally unknown in the history of Johnson's life and work. Excited about perhaps finding a new trove of work, Slopen asks to see the originals. When he does, he falls into a rabbit hole of intrigue and hubris the likes of which can hardly be imagined.
Slopen's explorations in the matter take him from London to Russia to a madhouse. He is befriended by a mysterious Russian woman named Vera and her bodyguard. They live in London in a house where they care for Vera's brother, who is the passkey into an
almost unbelievable mystery. Nicholas is drawn further and further into the mystery until he is totally changed.
Theroux's highly original novel questions what makes us human. His novel Far North was a finalist for the National Book Award and the Arthur C. Clarke Award for science fiction. This book with its questions about personality and the foundation of human experience will remain with the reader as each person answers the questions of what it means to be a person. This book is recommended for science fiction and philosophical readers.