58 pages 1 hour read

Hervé Le Tellier, Transl. Adriana Hunter

The Anomaly

Fiction | Novel | Adult | Published in 2020

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Summary and Study Guide


Hervé Le Tellier’s novel L’anomalie was first published in 2020 by Gallimard. After winning the 2020 Prix Goncourt, France’s most important literary prize, the novel became a runaway bestseller in Europe. This guide will cover the first English translation, The Anomaly, which was released in the United States in 2021, translated by Adriana Hunter and published by The Other Press. Le Tellier is a trained mathematician, science journalist, avant-garde poet, and public intellectual with over 30 books. The Anomaly is his ninth novel and the first to reach its level of international success.

The Anomaly at first appears to be a supernatural thriller in the vein of popular television shows Lost and Manifest. It features a large international cast of characters who share one thing in common: On March 10, 2021, they all fly from Paris to New York on Air France 006. After extreme turbulence, the flight lands safely. However, three months later, the flight lands again with the same people on board, having been mysteriously duplicated during the storm. Throughout the novel, Le Tellier mixes genres—from science fiction to romantic comedy and, eventually, metaphysical mystery. As the characters meet their doubles, they reconsider their life choices as well as the nature of the universe.

Content Warning: The novel contains references to suicide, child sexual assault, gun violence, and an anti-gay hate crimes. This guide contains analysis of all these elements.

Plot Summary

On March 10, 2021, an Air France flight from Paris to New York experiences extreme turbulence after hitting a mysterious storm. The Boeing 787 is damaged but lands safely in New York. The crew and passengers go on with their lives. One of the passengers is a professional assassin named Blake; Blake kills someone in New York before returning to his other life as a husband and father running a catering company in Paris. Two other passengers, a young film editor named Lucie Bogaert and an older architect named André Vannier, spend a romantic couple weeks in New York before breaking up upon their return to Paris. An American family returns from a vacation in Paris, where the father began sexually abusing his daughter, Sophia, and the abuse continues at home. After the flight, a high-powered lawyer named Joanna decides to marry her boyfriend and have a child with him. An unknown Nigerian singer known as Slimboy goes on to write a hit song and stops hiding his sexuality. The pilot, Captain David Markle, discovers that he has pancreatic cancer and is dying. Victor Miesel, an author and translator with only modest success, becomes so affected by the flight that he goes on to write a book titled The Anomaly, then dies by suicide.

On June 24, 2021, 106 days after the original Air France 006 landed in New York, a second Air France 006—with the same passengers and crew on the same Boeing 787—emerges out of the storm. This time, when David Markle radios air-traffic control, he is questioned by various government agencies and then forced to redirect the flight to McGuire Air Force Base. Adrian Miller, a mathematician who cowrote a series of protocols for air-travel emergencies after September 11, 2001, is conscripted by the United States government to join a secret task force coordinated by General Patrick Silveria. Adrian and a team of scientists and philosophers study the event. Meanwhile, the passengers and crew of the second plane are held against their will, without electronic devices, while the passengers and crew of the first plane are visited by government agents all around the world; many of them are escorted to the air force base.

In the three days after June 24, before the story goes public, the team interviews the passengers, forms theories about the anomaly, and reports to the US president. In the chaos of the first day, Blake escapes the air force base and returns to Europe. During the interviews, the FBI PsyOps team discovers that Victor Miesel and Slimboy have not yet begun to compose the works that would make their counterparts famous after March 10. They also discover that Sophia is being abused by her father and are able to diagnose David’s cancer at an earlier stage. Jamy Pudlowski, head of the PsyOps team, coordinates with religious leaders to release a joint statement designed to protect the duplicated people once their existence is discovered. In the meantime, Adrian and his team decide that the most likely explanation for the anomaly is that their reality is a computer simulation. As everyone struggles to deal with the suggestion that their lives and sentience are an illusion, the US president and other world leaders coordinate an announcement to the public. A year ago, a similar event occurred in China, but China has successfully kept it a secret.

The passengers of both Air France flights begin meeting their doubles and figure out how to divvy up their shared lives. The Blake that landed in June is never found; he assassinates the Blake that landed in March and replaces him. André March gives advice to André June on not ruining his relationship with Lucie, then meets someone else. Lucie finds a way to share her son, who did not join her on the flight, with her double. Both of Sophia’s mothers reckon with the truth that their husband had been abusing their daughter; both families change their name while the father goes to prison. The Slimboys pretend to be identical twins and go on tour together, releasing a song about their late romantic partner, who was killed in an anti-gay hate crime. David Markle dies twice, forcing his family to go through the grieving process a second time. Joanna June finds no room for herself in Joanna March’s marriage and starts a new life working for the FBI. Victor Miesel, through a press conference announcing that he is alive, meets the woman he has been looking for, and they begin a relationship. He writes a new book that resembles Le Tellier’s. Meanwhile, the world reacts to the news of doubles and the proposed simulation theory. An actress who was duplicated on Air France 006 and her double are murdered by a religious fanatic after going on The Late Show. There is a general sense of meaninglessness in the wake of the news, but eventually life returns to something close to normal. Then, on October 21, 2021, another copy of Air France 006 appears in the same place, and the US government secretly shoots it down.