“Book Review: The Unity Game”
Reviewed by Celia Morris
A narrative of life, death, and the spaces in between
The Unity Game is a supernatural literary novel about the endless cycle of human existence. Even Nooe-bouk, a “grey being” and genderless creature from outer space, experiences a story linked to a very human experience: feelings of love and yearning, of relentless curiosity.
The novel opens with David, a human whose story I found most compelling of the many characters created by Leonora Meriel. From the start, he is not a likeable person. He is intensely competitive, finding a thrill in the notion of “making it” in the big city with a shiny new office job and the promise of bonuses and promotions. He’s going for gold every second, his life revolving around being the best. These aspirations make him imperfect but so very easy to root for.
David represents the novel’s title best; for David, life is a game. He pushes harder than anyone else, and other people’s feelings (like Cassie’s, his childhood best friend) are left to fall by the wayside. I became addicted to David’s narrative, just as David himself became addicted to the game. Author Leonora Meriel drives his story at a relentless pace that at times leads us through spaces of eroticism, violence, and tenderness.
Another protagonist, the aforementioned Nooe-bouk, moves in strange and alien ways. It is nearing the end of its allotted lifespan, but it is not yet ready to move on. Instead, it strives to elongate its life for as long as possible. To Nooe-bouk, that means getting on a ship that will put it in a state of stillness, that it will keep it that way forever.
Nooe-bouk and its kind do not walk; they take ‘distance leaps’. They do not stand; they “lift” themselves. And, my personal favorite, they experience kaiif—a kind of orgasmic euphoria that occurs when they complete certain tasks to “maximum potential.” One of the most touching storylines is Nooe-bouk’s discovery of certain human emotions, which send low-level kaiff all through it. Despite the alien language created by Meriel, we are moved by the familiarity of the emotions felt by these distant creatures.
Alisdair (an Ancient-Greece-obsessed Oxford don) and Elspeth (his granddaughter) also have great stories in this novel. It is with them that Meriel most obviously displays her talent for philosophical idealizing. In their presence, Socrates comes to life, and we ascend from Plato’s cave to discover the truth of death. Merial uses these historical figures and Alisdair’s fascination with them to show one of her best themes: dying is just as magnificent and colorful as living. We experience this theme through David’s constant, painful push for self-improvement and Nooe-bouk’s fear of dying, so it is fulfilling and satisfying that everything deals with it in some way.
Alisdair might be a little stuffy, but Elspeth proves to be a fresh interpretation of a young and privileged person. She is keen to break free from the job procured for her by her grandfather and almost wishes that she came from poverty, like some of the people she meets on her various travels. Her morally dubious life choices to ignore her privilege will hit almost painfully close to home for some readers.
Together, these protagonists slowly revolve around a central story of love, destiny, and the pull of history and philosophy. It paces steadily toward a conclusion without ever falling into dullness, keeping you hooked until the last moment with its cast of strange characters and collision of worlds.
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