One has to really transcend into this novel in order to get the full experience. It’s Alex Garland, the same author that brought us The Beach in the early 2000’s. Mr. Existentialist. I love his work. He has a gift for bringing us into the world of his characters, the world in which they inhabit, however strange or foreign that world may seem. The sometimes unimaginable distant world he is trying to create always seems to come alive with just the small, minute details. The right ones. The little things about the way a city operates, or the certain person you might find on a street corner—that really resonates with the reader. And you have to immerse yourself in that moment, and then the story becomes real, on so many different levels.
The Tesseract is like this. It takes place in Manila, in the Philippines, and follows the intersecting story of three diverse characters. These characters are not so much thrown into Manila, as much as we as readers are thrown into Manila, trying to comprehend the beauty and danger of this city at the same time. We learn about why certain individuals come to Manila, their backstory, why they never end up leaving, and what the city has to offer. It is indeed a sort of paradise for some, and a living hell for others.
We learn about the real grittiness of the city through two characters; two street kids who have sorted landed themselves in Manila because they were abandoned by their parents. More or less we get a feel for Manila’s underbelly through their use of the five senses. The sounds we hear in Manila are important. What these boys hear during the day and the little noises here and there land the reader in the centerfold of a street corner. For example, sporadically throughout the story the boys speak of the “purr” of a Mercedes they hear coming down the road. They cherish this sound. They listen closely because it is a noise that is not heard often. It’s something that reminds the reader that seeing a well manufactured car in these parts, with no sputtering engine, is a rarity.
The randomness of each day is also a testament to the undying nature of the city that does not stop operating on a scale of randomness itself.
And there is a sort of art about the way the city operates, or doesn’t operate. It’s kind of fascinating. On paper there is a democracy, there are rules, and a government and you can believe that things function in a systemic fashion. But the reality is that Manila is irrational and chaotic. This chaos becomes ordinary after awhile, and you can submerge yourself inside that chaos in order to find whatever you are looking for.
Indeed, there is a lot to find. A lot to wonder about. A lot to see and whatever it is that you don’t see is still even more fascinating because there are so many possibilities in this tropical havoc.
But back to the story. Read it. Find out if the destiny of these characters, some of which I haven’t named, are worth considering. Think about them in their chaotic world and make out the simplest piece of calm out of their situation. We are all products of our environment.