Written in exquisite, spare prose, this literary debut novel is a cross between Kazuo Ishiguro’s speculative work, the clever fabulism of Ted Chiang, and the heart-rending search for where it all went wrong in Matt Haig’s The Midnight Library.
THE OTHER VALLEY
by Scott Alexander Howard
Atria/Simon & Schuster, Spring 2024
(via Frances Goldin Literary Agency)
Sixteen-year-old Odile Ozanne is an awkward, quiet girl, but everyone knows she’s destined to land a coveted seat on the Conseil. In her apprenticeship, she competes to become one of the judges to decide who amongst the town’s residents may travel across the border. If she earns the position, she’ll decree who may be escorted deep into the woods, who may cross the border’s barbed wire fence, who may make the arduous trek over the western mountain range — or perhaps the eastern range—to descend into the next valley over. It’s the same valley, the same town. However, to the east, the town is twenty years ahead in time. To the west, it’s twenty years behind. The towns repeat in an endless sequence across the wilderness. The only border crossings permitted by the Conseil are mourning tours: furtive viewings of the dead in towns where the dead are still alive.
Odile, wise beyond her years, will surely pass the Conseil’s vetting. But when she happens upon a mourning tour she wasn’t supposed to see, she realizes her dear friend Edme’s parents have crossed the border from the east, from twenty years in the future, to view their son still alive in Odile’s present.
Edme, who’s so funny and light. Edme, who’s a violin virtuoso at just sixteen! Edme, who’s the first boy to even see Odile, to really like her…. And it’s Edme who’s going to die.
Sworn to secrecy by the Conseil in order to preserve the timeline, Odile finds herself drawn even closer to the doomed boy. When Edme dies far sooner than Odile expects, when she does nothing to thwart his fate, she’s deeply shaken. The loss, her foreknowledge, the weight of her rare and varied grief all throw Odile’s own future, her adult life, into a devastating, downward spiral.
If your soul was stricken by the years, your teeth bloodied from all of life’s blows, would you risk being seen by the armed patrols, would you gamble with everyone’s lives, with your own, with the annihilation of an entire timeline to hike across the border and get back to where it all went wrong?
THE OTHER VALLEY is a dark, modern fable about time and fate. Readers will rush breathlessly to the end to see if the spark of hope in their hearts for Odile will grow again into the bright promise of her youth—or collapse into unchangeable catastrophe.
Scott Alexander Howard has a PhD in philosophy from the University of Toronto, where he wrote an award-winning dissertation on literary emotions and the passage of time. His articles have appeared in journals such as Philosophical Quarterly and Analysis. Upon completing a postdoctoral fellowship at Harvard, he decided to pursue fiction. He now lives in Vancouver.