Game Theory is a neatly-crafted 21st-century take on a genre of literary fiction—the light-hearted, plot-driven romp—that has drifted out of fashionby Houman Barekat / December 10, 2018 / Leave a comment
Published in Mid-winter (Jan-Feb) 2019 issue of Prospect Magazine
Game Theory by Thomas Jones (JM Originals, £12.99) Thomas Jones’s debut novel tells the story of a middle-class couple, Alex and Clare, resetting their lives after their 10-year relationship hits the rocks. Clare treats herself to a South American sojourn, where she tells a fellow backpacker that she is “trying to escape the cliché of trying to escape the cliché of a stifling bourgeois existence.” Alex wallows in a “persistent state of flattened affect” and whiles away his evenings playing online backgammon. Alex and Clare’s social milieu is a tableau of genteel Englishness: they enjoy cricket and cucumber sandwiches, country house retreats and reminiscing about Oxford. As they negotiate the awkward terrain of post-breakup social dynamics, the co-protagonists take part in all manner of games, from croquet, tennis and pool to Twister and hide-and-seek, as well as Boggle and poker. The through-line is disarmingly simple: the logic of adult life, with all its strategising and bluffing, is little different from that of the sports field or parlour game. After losing a game of chess to a computer, Alex decides to “rewind the game, undoing his moves until the point at which he first went wrong. And it still amazed him, amateur as he was, how much difference it could make whether white or black went down a tempo during the opening moves, how early a game could be lost.” Game Theory explores the complex and contingent nature of social networks, the importance of which becomes particularly stark when a romantic relationship founders. It is not so much a comic novel as a comedy in the Shakespearian sense: the humour here is more likely to elicit wry smiles than audible chuckles. Like Clare herself, the novel never quite breaks free of the stereotypes it acknowledges—although, in fairness, it doesn’t seek to. Game Theory is a neatly-crafted 21st-century take on a genre of literary fiction—the light-hearted, plot-driven romp—that has drifted out of fashion.