Sleeping Giants | Sylvain Neuvel | 2016 (21 April) | Michael Joseph/Del Rey | 320p | Review copy | Buy the book
On her eleventh birthday, Rose Franklin was riding her brand new bike near her home in Deadwood, South Dakota, when the ground gave way beneath her wheels. Rose was found by firemen sitting in the palm of a vast hand, itself placed within a great box covered in strange markings. Seventeen years later, Rose Franklin, now an eminent physicist, is the scientist in charge of investigating the hand’s mysteries – even now, all these years on, the artefact remains unknowable. But every test that Rose and her team carry out on the hand – its composition, construction, markings, age – all defy belief. It is clear that humans are not responsible for its creation. For the first time, mankind knows that it is not alone. But as to what the hand means? No-one is the wiser.
Sleeping Giants investigates the hand and its significance via reports and journal extracts but mostly through a series of interviews conducted by an unnamed person who has ultimate authority. Presidents and their advisors come and go but this man’s influence continues. He’s the one who gathers the team together, finds the resources, collects the intelligence and decides its use. He is also responsible. We know nothing about him except what he reveals in the interviews. Tantalising glimpses of the person behind the voice emerge but we know little more about him than the men and women who work to decipher the hand.
Rose is regularly interviewed throughout the novel but there are other characters that we get to know even better, particularly Kara the military pilot and Vincent the genius.
As the interviews continue and time passes, an incredible spellbinding story emerges. The truth about the hand is revealed, at least in part, and it could not be more fascinating or gripping. This is not a book I wanted to put down for a minute. There are wonders here, alongside very real shocks. The detachment of the narrative’s techniques, using interviews and reports, cannot hide the intensity of the drama as these men and women try to deal with what they discover. And their human story contrasts so well with that of the inhuman hand. In fact, the human story is equally important and just as brilliantly depicted. I can only marvel at how well, and how cleverly, Sylvain Neuvel has put the narrative technique to use.
There is a quirkiness here too that I really enjoyed. Threads of the story go off in unexpected tangents, leaving the reader wondering how, or even if, these elements will come together.
This is a novel full of surprises. Its themes are huge. All of humanity is affected. The hand makes nations reconsider their attitudes towards others. The world is poised on the edge and it could go either way – into light or darkness. The revelations flow thick and fast and I quite simply gobbled them up. I don’t want to give anything away about any of the developments here, human or otherwise. Sleeping Giants is a novel to marvel over, to relish and to re-read. It is hugely thrilling, big on shocks, and wondrous with its enormous discoveries but it is also humorous and intimate. Our interviewer has a dry sense of humour and, nameless though he might be, he was soon my favourite character.
Sylvain Neuvel is to be congratulated. Sleeping Giants is such a clever book but it is also so much fun to read. I knew it would be good when I first heard about it but it exceeded all my expectations and will no doubt be among my top books of 2016.