The Zero and the One by Ryan Ruby

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The Zero and the One by Ryan Ruby

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Category: Literary Fiction
Rating: 4/5
Reviewer: Ruth Wilson
Reviewed by Ruth Wilson
Summary: A masterful book about regret, guilt and loss. As Owen tries to make sense of the loss of his friend and the guilt he feels in Zach's death, he meets Vera, who is dealing with her own grief. Together they try to work through their pain and piece together the final moments of the life, and death, of one they loved.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 258 Date: March 2018
Publisher: Twelve
External links: Author's website
ISBN: 978-1455565184

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The Zero and the One is an incredibly well written and well crafted book. We meet our narrator, Owen, on the plane to New York for the funeral of his best friend. He is still reeling after recent events, a suicide pact in which his friend died but he lived, and he is going through the motions of the funeral and consoling family whilst still trying to get to grips with his own feelings of grief and guilt. So far, so simple. But this is where the talent of Ryan Ruby steps in and slowly, so slowly, he reveals little tantalising clues that all is not what it seems, a throw-away comment here, a mis-step there, and it becomes clear that Owen is not a reliable narrator.

Owen's relationship with Zach, his best friend, is a complicated one. Owen has moved from his world back home, where he never quite fit in to the enormous world of Oxford University, where he finds he still does not fit in. Some of this is his own fault, his shyness and self-doubt and tendency to over-think every detail makes him socially awkward and uncomfortable. Into his life breezes Zack who is as loud and self-assured as Owen is reluctant, and Zack gives Owen the support to be more outgoing. Often though, this support is through strong-arming Owen, persuasion through pressure or money or not taking no for an answer, and Owen finds himself in several situations which he finds uncomfortable. The friendship might have freed Owen from his crippling loneliness but it does not always seem particularly healthy.

Owen seems torn through his introspection to be disloyal to his deceased friend but seems to acknowledge more and more that he didn't know Zack as well as he thought and that the relationship was particularly one sided. Into this introspection steps Vera, Zach's twin sister who is desperately trying to understand how she can have lost her twin, the other half of herself. The more Vera reveals about Zach the more Owen realises how little he knew about his friend. She allows things to be put into a context that he was missing, almost as though he has only ever heard one side of a telephone call and now he knows the whole story. Her release allows his release and finally the whole story becomes clear.

My goodness, what a finale! To say anything will totally spoil the final reveal, like giving away a cleverly crafted who-dunnit so here I shall say nothing except that it is beautifully written, fast paced and marvellous in its conclusion. As the story progresses you are teased to see a conclusion only to have this swiped away in a single blow. It is truly spectacular in its planning and set up and I never saw it coming. Up until this point I would probably not have recommended a reader to buy this book, but having finished it I think it is one that needs to be re-read after the conclusion, and I imagine each re-reading will reveal little details previously unnoticed.

This book is a real work of art, a masterclass in tension, suspense and deception. Alternatively, for something similar you could try The Waking by Matthew Smith.

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Buy The Zero and the One by Ryan Ruby at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy The Zero and the One by Ryan Ruby at Amazon currently charges £2.99 for standard delivery for orders under £20, over which delivery is free.
Buy The Zero and the One by Ryan Ruby at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy The Zero and the One by Ryan Ruby at


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