Three Years With the Rat by Jay Hosking

27833835I’ll admit that I thought the title of this book was strange. But when I read the author’s background, I was intrigued and hoped he had used a part of his neuroscience-y mind to write this book. He did, but not so much that the average reader can’t follow what’s going on. Just enough that we have to think about what we’re reading; it’s a bit of a mind-bender.  It reminded me of The Society of Experience, because of its originality and time-travel elements. They are also very different from one another, so I recommend you read both!

Just imagine you could be the past and the present and the future you, all at the same time… Imagine you had full access. Imagine you knew everything was going to work out, or even if it wasn’t going to work out, at least you’d be ready for what’s coming. The things you could tell yourself, the intellectual conversations, how quickly you could learn. Imagine how much of a comfort it could be.

The narrator of the book, a young man, has always looked up to his sister; she’s brilliant and rebellious. But lately her behaviour has become concerning. She is obsessed with her work at the lab; work that her boyfriend is also a part of. Then she disappears, followed by her boyfriend who leaves behind a mysterious box and a note that says “This is the only way back for us“. From here on in, our narrator is partly losing it and partly trying to figure out how to get his sister back. In the meantime he finds that his existence has begun to disappear around him; his friends don’t know him, his possessions begin to vanish, and he finds he no longer has a bank account. He seems to be racing against time.

What would you do if your sister went missing and you were the only one left who might be able to figure out how to get her back, but in doing so you would have to attempt to enter a place completely unknown and unpredictable in which you already have an inkling that there is some kind of terrible force that might cause you a lot of pain in the process?

In addition to there being a lot going on with the plot in this book, there is also a strong emphasis on family and relationships. There is a lot of stuff going on in this guy’s life and head and in the head of his sister and her boyfriend. Their relationships are complex; revealing some secrets and a few surprises along the way.

Once we understand how to measure subjectivity, then we can manipulate it. Then we can manage a degree of control over it. Then we can begin to overcome the limitations of the objective world, escape these awful, incontrovertible facts of reality…. Then, little brother, for once in our ignorance-congested, noise-saturated lives, we can be alone. We can have time and space to really think.

Read this for many reasons, and know that it will be a fun ride!

There are just some things that are outside of comprehension, even if we can quantify them. At some point, science becomes magic.


Review at the Quill & Quire: “…it is the novel’s juxtaposition of clashing wills and personalities, as well as philosophies, that makes it shiver with life.”

Enjoy this interview with Jay Hosking at CNQ.

It’s about what happens when the known brushes up against the unknown, and how to live with dignity when reality is so vast and mostly incomprehensible.

Of course questions of time perception, memory, and agency are informed by studying their neurobiological bases, but I was as much fascinated by why scientists chase these questions, what their motivations are, and whether there are better and worse ways to explore our worlds.

*Thanks to Random House Canada for sending my an ARC of this book! Quotations used in my review are from an uncorrected proof. 

30 thoughts on “Three Years With the Rat by Jay Hosking

  1. yourdaughtersbookshelf says:

    This sounds incredible. I love a story that has my mind twisted in knots (as long as it untwists by the end!). The title and cover both captured my attention – definitely adding it to my TBR (which seems to be growing at an alarming rate….)

  2. Jenny @ Reading the End says:

    Interesting! Did you ever read The End of Mr. Y? This sounds — well, maybe not similar, but similarly asking the reader to think more about the nature of time and consciousness in the midst of a really strange and absorbing story. I should really go back and read more by that author — I liked The End of Mr. Y quite a bit, but never tried out the author’s later books.

    • Naomi says:

      It’s funny you should mention Scarlett Thomas’s books – I just finished reading a book with a puzzle in it, and I saw Popco being mentioned as another good ‘puzzle book’. She sounds like an author worth checking out!

      • Bina says:

        Butting in…Definitely try Scarlett Thomas! I’ve read 3 and loved the premise of each, though I find that she doesn’t do as well with the endings. Also if you don’t mind cool dude lit you might enjoy Matt Ruff’s Bad Moneys, which has a similar vibe.
        Anyhoo love this review and it makes me want to explore this mystery! Is it all timey wimey? I love this quote you posted at the end: “At some point, science becomes magic.” How true!

      • Naomi says:

        Thanks for the input, Bina!
        I love that quote, too – I feel that way about so many things that I don’t understand. When the kids ask me how something works, I tell them ‘I don’t know – it’s like magic!’ They’re getting used to that response. 🙂

  3. buriedinprint says:

    WordPress isn’t allowing me to butt in beneath Bina’s comment *grins* so I’m butting in lower down to say that I kept thinking about The End of Mr. Y while reading this one as well.

    With both books, I found that I sank deeper into the maze until, in the final 75 pages, I wasn’t sure if I could get my head back above the narrative waters once more. Challenging: but in a good way!

  4. Read Diverse Books says:

    Woah, this book sounds wicked cool!
    I wouldn’t want to have so much knowledge about my life and my future. I mean, I could probably handle it because I’m pretty level headed and also trust my mind to adapt to such a bizarre personal reality…but it sounds too stressful and complicated. Sounds like a great premise for a book, though!

    • Naomi says:

      It *is* very cool. And, it’s interesting to hear your point of view – especially since one of the characters in the book was desperate to figure it all out because she was certain that it would bring her peace. You’ll have to read it to find out whether or not it did! 🙂

  5. susan says:

    Lab rats? This author sounds like a nerdy scientist. He’s actually coming to our book festival in October, so perhaps I’ll pick up a signed copy there. thx for the review

  6. annelogan17 says:

    I’m glad you enjoyed it, I’m interviewing Jay next week and your review gave me more food for thought! Anything you’d like to ask him? I need more ideas for questions!

    • Naomi says:

      It’s been a while since I read it now, but here’s something I was wondering about…
      I would like to know what made him come up with “the box” to get through time rather than something else. Where did that idea come from?

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