This is a tour de force of a novel; more than that, it does things that only the novel can do. It is gloriously bewildering and presents a piquant challenge to the reader to stitch together its shifting stories. Most importantly, it is serious.
It begins with Ben meeting Kate at “a rich girl’s party. He didn’t know the rich girl personally” in New York in 2000. The party-goers are all young, bohemian, cool without being cool, and mostly privileged. But something is awry already. There is a female President, Chen, who supports ecological causes and advocates a universal basic income. Ben – who is half Bengali and half Jewish – and Kate – who is Hungarian-Turkish-Persian – inevitably fall in love. But there is a problem. Kate is a dreamer – they are all dreamers – but her dreams are different. For one thing, “often, she dreamed in the dream – or the person she was sleeping as dreamed”. In those dreams, it is 1593 and she is Emilia Lanier, one of the people often cited as the inspiration of the Dark Lady in Shakespeare’s Sonnets. Moreover, her dreams seem to have the capacity to change the future. So the reader is set adrift between Elizabethan England and millennial New York, and things keep on changing. In one present she conjures, Shakespeare is only known as the minor poet of Venus And Adonis. Sometimes she has parents and a family, sometimes not; sometimes George W Bush is President, not Chen. Sometimes it is all going to work out alright, not just between Ben and Kate, but for the whole planet. Sometimes it will not.