Hidden Variables by Caitlin Lyangh

Hidden Variables is the second book in the Soul Prophecy series, and is the prequel to Anomaly, which I read and reviewed a few years ago. I loved Anomaly, and am happy to say that I also loved Hidden Variables. It had all of the same charm, warmth and sheer humanity as the novel it predates. At the same time, it is clear that this is a more mature work, one with some slightly darker undertones. I like how this novel is, among many other things, a murder mystery, recuperating some of the adventure elements of Anomaly.

hidden variables coverThe first chapter opens with an image of the world on fire. Just a vision – presented to a boy in a mysterious place – but this opening scene prefigures some of the beautiful dichotomies that give shape to the book. There is the contrast between violence and calm, the juxtaposition of teenage bullying and a world of souls and energy, characterised by swirling light and colour, and the tension between Positive and Negative. That this book can flicker between the semi-serious world of netball on the playground to visions of deceased souls in a single scene, is testament to Lynagh’s masterful handling of some complex material. Everything is held in perfect balance.

One of the things that struck a chord with me in this book is the way Lynagh analyses emotions. The book presents an intuitive and thoughtful exploration of emotions: they are variously seen as layers, with an emptiness spanning beneath them, as a whiplash of pain and, in a way similar to synaesthesia, as colours. This multi-faceted portrayal of emotion is helped by the use of multiple narrators, each presented by a quietly detached third-person narrator, who through focalisation bestows each character with a unique perspective.

There are some mature themes in this novel, from murder to suicide, which Lynagh handles with gravity and sensitivity. At the same time, the book thrills with warmth – the sudden bursts of energy as the young Sophia bursts into the kitchen late for school, or is enveloped by her Grandma and handed a cup of coffee, or slowly grows attached to a couple she has only met in her dreams. This is a very human book, and it made me feel warm inside.

Hidden Variables has a linear narrative that is disrupted by visions, dreams and memories, aided by a language of fragmentation. Like the pathways Arhl watches, and the potential futures that branch off in different directions, this book strains with a gently supernatural energy – and it is a joy to watch it unfurl.

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