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Maxwell's Demon Reviews

Maxwell's Demon by Steven Hall

Maxwell's Demon

Steven Hall

3.78 out of 5

6 reviews

Imprint: Canongate Books Ltd
Publisher: Canongate Books Ltd
Publication date: 4 Feb 2021
ISBN: 9781847672469

The absurdly brilliant and mind-twisting second novel from Steven Hall, author of the acclaimed The Raw Shark Texts

4 stars out of 5
Sandra Newman
18 Feb 2021

"... consistently fun and often impressive"

The book does have consequential flaws. Hall devotes many pages to a tour of cool ideas so overfamiliar they’ve become stock jokes about the kinds of things stoned freshers discuss at parties: Easter Island, the Gnostic Gospels, the Hero’s Journey.... Despite all this, Maxwell’s Demon is consistently fun and often impressive. I suspect a reader’s experience of it will largely depend on their appetite for its genre. It’s doubtful it will appeal to people who find Thomas Pynchon irritating and roll their eyes at Mark Z Danielewski’s House of Leaves, but readers who love that kind of thing will probably love this too.


4 stars out of 5
13 Feb 2021

"Hall’s experimental novel, combining the plot of a thriller with discourses on entropy, is an oddly enjoyable read"

In the novel’s final pages there’s an interesting, unexpected turn: a literal interpretation of the post-structuralist idea that language creates, rather than merely describes, reality. The problem is that we’re not invested enough in one of the key characters to give it the heft it seeks. A perfect example of this sort of ending — indeed of this sort of book — is Bret Easton Ellis’s Lunar Park, published two years before Hall’s debut. It remains the gold standard.

5 stars out of 5
13 Feb 2021

"a Pynchonesque, footnote- and theory-heavy mystery novel that’s as postmodern as they come"

There’s a concern with presence and absence: in the fame of Tom’s dead father, in the fragments of absent Imogen – the delayed live stream of her at work, the wedding video Tom plays on repeat. And then there are the leaf-shaped footnotes in upside-down writing, diagrams, and the requisite nods to the novel’s fictionality. It’s all brightened by Hall’s unsmug funniness, and an insistence on feeling. ... The novel’s abiding theme is the joy of reading – always a risky ground for authors to tread. After all, your own book has to be completely lovable – which, thankfully, Maxwell’s Demon is. 

4 stars out of 5
10 Feb 2021

"an entropic and sprawling mystery"

Thomas Quinn is a struggling author living in the shadow of his deceased father, a renowned journalist. When he receives an ominous letter from his rival (and his father’s protégé) Andrew Black – a once successful author who has long since faded into anonymity – Thomas embarks on a mind-twisting journey to find out what really lies behind the message. Introspective and philosophical, the novel explores the dangers that occur when fatalistic urges take over.


4 stars out of 5
Stuart Kelly
6 Feb 2021

"It’s been well worth the wait"

Black imagines the novel as an engine or machine and poses the question: if this is so, then what does the machine do? Or indeed manufacture? The delay in the novel seems almost prescient: a propos of the online world, one character says “The world really is ending, you know. A hyperlink really is an atom bomb and truth will mean nothing at all in a year or two, you’ll see. It’s all falling apart”. But the genius of the book is that despite it seeming like an elegant orrery, all these wheels within wheels are a carapace, a psychic armour against a grief (and it’s not the grief you were expecting). Beneath this truly beautiful astrolabe is a beating human heart.

2 stars out of 5
6 Feb 2021

"the book’s climactic lunge for the heartstrings only deepens the suspicion that much of its preceding jiggery-pokery is just faff"

Scrunching my eyes up and rotating the book 180 degrees for the nth time, I grumpily felt he was writing this tiring metafictional quest for his own pleasure, not ours.

The sense that there’s little lying at stake means that his carefully crafted twists fall flat, while the book’s climactic lunge for the heartstrings only deepens the suspicion that much of its preceding jiggery-pokery is just faff.