Book Review: A Working Theory of Love

A Working Theory of Love

A Working Theory of Love

by Scott Hutchins

Published by Viking Trade (Penguin)

Obtained: ARC via Waterstones

Challenges: Goodreads 2013 Challenge

Settled back into the San Francisco singles scene following the implosion of his young marriage just months after the honeymoon, Neill Bassett is going through the motions. When Neill’s father committed suicide ten years ago, he left behind thousands of pages of secret journals, journals that are stunning in their detail, and, it must be said, their complete banality. This was exactly what artificial intelligence company Amiante Systems was looking for. He has spent the last two years inputting the diaries into what everyone hopes will become the world’s first sentient computer. Essentially, he has been giving it language—using his father’s words. Alarming to Neill, the computer actually appears to be gaining awareness and, most disconcerting of all, has started asking questions about Neill’s childhood.

Amid this psychological turmoil, Neill meets Rachel. She was meant to be a one-night stand, but Neill is unexpectedly taken with her and the possibilities she holds. At the same time, he remains preoccupied by unresolved feelings for his ex-wife. When Neill discovers a missing year in the diaries—a year that must hold some secret to his parents’ marriage and perhaps even his father’s suicide—everything Neill thought he knew about his past comes into question, and every move forward feels impossible to make.

I received ‘The Working Theory of Love‘ by Scott Hutchins from Waterstones as a random reviewer,  so I didn’t know what book I was going to receive, if I got one. I do remember seeing the cover on the webiste and thinking it looked very cool. I love the black and white people,  and the orange background is very quirky.

Unfortunately this ARC doesn’t have a blurb on the back, so I didn’t really know what it was about. I just presumed romance, given the title. (NB- having just opened the first page to check the spelling of the lead character, there is a blurb just inside the book. Oops!).
Hence I found the book quite slow to start, as there is zero romance or action in the first 50 pages or so. But then the story gets interesting (thankfully). Neill is a computer geek, and his boss has developed a talking robot, in basic terms. He used Neill’s dead father’s diaries as a template for a computer voice. Neill’s job is to try and make it more human. I think it starts off as a funny character addition that really starts to develop when it figures out that Neill is actually his son.
Hence Neill explores his relationship with his dead father, what could have been and all the things left unsaid before he killed himself. Hence the title.
Neill is also trying to work through the idea of love in his personal life; recently divorced and his meetings with several girls. I just found the characters a bit strange in this book. I never really connected with Neill, but I’m not sure if this was the author’s intention. He seems to be drifiting since his divorce, not really making any ties or having any purpose in life. He doesn’t have any hobbies or pasttimes, or friends aside from a couple of work colleagues. So when he meets Rachel, young and full of life, he is drawn to her warmth. Their relationship is an odd one; Neill doesn’t want to commit, but he is jealous of her exciting life.

She is also part of a love cult thing on the side, which I thought was a bit of a strange plot. The only reason I can see for this is it sort of proves that Rachel isn’t a slut, and shows her vulnerability. There seems quite an apparent age gap between them, and at times it makes me feel a bit awkward. Even towards the end there isn’t anything that makes Neill appeal as a boyfriend, as he is just so dull! So their relationship didn’t make sense to me, as it isn’t one that I would imagine to occur in real life. Yes I know dull people do have girlfriends, but these aren’t the boys I want to read about!

That being said, I did feel like I enjoyed the book. It isn’t one I would read again, but I enjoyed the uniqueness of it. The concept of making a computer human is one that interests me. Thus I would recommend it to people who similarly are interested in AI and computer emotions. I thought the dialogue of the computer was witty, and it really made the book. I  am only disappointed that there was not more involvement of the computer. Perhaps if there is a sequel they can give it a partner? That would be a fun book. It is interesting to learn what makes a person human. By giving the computer his dad’s ‘thoughts’ from the journals, Neill refers to the computer as his father. But will he remain that way forever? Can computer personalities change?

Overall I would recommend this book to geeks who are interested in emotion and character development as well. This book was lacking action for me, but I know that’s not important for some. It is quirky and funny in places. I really dithered between 3.5 and 4 sofas, but I think I will settle on 3.5. While there is nothing wrong with this book and I would be interested in a sequel, this isn’t one I would considering reading again or keeping on my shelf.

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