When It’s a Jar is Tom Holt’s sequel to last year’s Doughnut. It can stand alone, but you probably want to at least read about Doughnut first (here is Stefan’s review). In Doughnut, physicist Theo Bernstein made a math error which blew up the Very Very Large Hadron Collider. Then from his friend, a famous physicist, he inherits a bottle which is a portal to the multiverse he never knew existed. Now he can travel to different parallel universes through the holes in doughnuts. Or bagels work, too.
In When It’s a Jar, Theo is back and is again having some life-threatening trouble with the multiverse. He’s stuck in a jar and keeps having his memories wiped. Each time he has to start over, reconstructing all of his knowledge about the world and his situation from “first principles.” Who will save him?
Our “hero” this time is Maurice, a recently unemployed man who has had a rather disappointing life so far. George, his best friend from high school, is one of the wealthiest and most influential men on the planet and he unwittingly makes Maurice feel like a failure. Also, another problem is that Maurice never got around to telling his other best friend, Stephanie, that he’s been in love with her for most of his life, and now she might end up with George. But once Maurice gets involved with Theo and the multiverses, he wonders if perhaps he’s in the wrong parallel universe. Maybe he was meant to be someone else.
When It’s a Jar is typical of Tom Holt — quirky, silly, and funny. The plot is delightfully absurd and it twists and turns unexpectedly. Holt pokes fun at all sorts of human behaviors, and this is genuinely entertaining. For example, Maurice’s friend George is a ruthless capitalist, but he’s Green, so to reduce his carbon footprint, he bikes around the city…. accompanied by a cavalcade of diesel-emitting black SUVs. However, the jokes are non-stop and they become tiresome after a while. (Example: “Maurice’s jaw dropped like BP shares after an oil spill.”)
As Stefan mentions, the influence of Terry Pratchett is so obvious that a reviewer has to remark on it. In fact, Maurice, whose favorite word is “um,” appears to be modeled after Rincewind, Pratchett’s dull untalented wizard who, despite his lack of drive and guts, always manages to save the day. Yet, Holt’s work (at least judging from Doughnut and When It’s a Jar) lack the depth of characterization and insight that Pratchett achieves. Still, he’s pretty entertaining.
I listened to the audio version produced by Hachette Audio and read by Ray Sawyer. I loved Sawyer’s narration. He has a lovely British accent and interprets Holt’s humor perfectly. I’m sure I enjoyed When It’s a Jar more because of the excellent narration.