Books

The Other Valley by Scott Alexander Howard review – the moral conundrums of coming of age

Howard's philosophy background shines through in his debut novel

The Other Valley by Scott Alexander Howard is out now (Atlantic, £16.99)

The Other Valley is Canadian author Scott Alexander Howard’s debut novel. Howard is an academic within the field of philosophy, and this speculative and thoughtful novel clearly draws on his background, tackling weighty moral and emotional themes within a fascinating initial premise.

Odile Ozanne is a 16-year-old girl living in a quiet valley, applying for a coveted position at the Conseil. The Conseil is an organisation that controls travel from Odile’s valley to the neighbouring ones, because those valleys are identical to hers except that they are 20 years in the future to the east, and 20 years in the past to the west.

Only discreet and heavily monitored travel is allowed in exceptional circumstances, and Odile witnesses such a visit to her own valley by the parents of her friend Edme, suggesting that he will be dead within the next 20 years. This set up plays out in unexpected ways as the story develops, in what is effectively a coming-of-age story with real depth and gravity.

Howard’s prose style is understated and precise, impressively so for a debut author, and that lends the moral conundrums more weight as a result. More pernickety readers might try to pick apart the time-travelling mechanism, but the logistics are less important than the emotional impact of possibly being able to change things, and the conflict between personal happiness and commitment to maintaining societal order. This is a fascinating and thought-provoking debut that shows real promise for the future, and I’m intrigued to see what the author writes next.

Doug Johnstone is an author and journalist.

The Other Valley by Scott Alexander Howard is out now (Atlantic, £16.99). You can buy it from The Big Issue shop on Bookshop.org, which helps to support The Big Issue and independent bookshops.
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