The Test – by Sylvain Neuvel (Review)



St. Martin’s Press; March 1, 2019

104 pages (PB)

4 / 5 ✪

The Test is a science fiction novella by Sylvain Neuvel, owner of one of my favorite names in scifi. I recently picked up the paperback after months on the fence as to whether or not I really wanted to buy the ebook. Turns out, I probably should’ve gotten it earlier.

Idir Jalil is a good man. Originally from Teheran, he is currently taking the British Citizenship Test in an attempt to formally immigrate to England. Polite and courteous, soft spoken but brave when the situation requires, Idir cares for nothing more than his family—his wife Tidir, children Ramzi and Salma. And only 25 questions stand between him and his family’s new life. Or their trip back to Iran.

But all is not as it seems. And after the test takes an unexpected turn, Idir is granted not just the power to change his and his family’s lives, but the power of life and death over his fellow immigrants.

Not bad, for a novella.

Most of this is told from Idir’s POV, but there are other perspectives. If you’re familiar with Neuvel’s Themis Files, then the layout and telling of this tale won’t be any surprise. If not, then the interview, back-and-forth style that he uses may take some getting used to. Maybe even more pages than this features. For the most part, this style works fairly well to tell Idir’s story. But it’s less than perfect. For the Themis Files, I thought it was a new and innovative approach. For this story, I found it a bit clipped.

Nothing that I can complain much about, though. Overall, the premise was interesting. More than, in fact. It was a quick and entertaining read. I read it in a day. A bit short, not very filling, and a few unresolved issues in the end, though mostly on the scifi end. I would’ve liked a bit more, but it was clear that Neuvel told the story he was trying to, and it all flows very nicely. So, other than a couple issues, I’ve no reason not to recommend this.

I liked Idir. I enjoyed his perspective. I thought his character and his story were very good. But worth $4 (or more, or less, if you wanted the physical copy)? Yeah, probably. Especially if you enjoyed the Themis Files. And I would actually recommend it. And as a bonus: we even learn an important lesson in the end. Need anything else?

Yeah, well.

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