fantasy and science fiction book reviewsWhen It’s a Jar by Tom HoltWhen It’s a Jar by Tom Holt

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.

When It’s A Jar — (2013) Publisher: Maurice has just killed a dragon with a bread knife. And had his destiny foretold… and had his true love spirited away. That’s precisely the sort of stuff that’d bring out the latent heroism in anyone. Unfortunately, Maurice is pretty sure he hasn’t got any latent heroism. Meanwhile, a man wakes up in a jar in a different kind of pickle (figuratively speaking). He can’t get out, of course, but neither can he remember his name, or what gravity is, or what those things on the ends of his legs are called… and every time he starts working it all out, someone makes him forget again. Forget everything. Only one thing might help him. The answer to the most baffling question of all… WHEN IS A DOOR NOT A DOOR?


  • Kat Hooper

    KAT HOOPER, who started this site in June 2007, earned a Ph.D. in neuroscience and psychology at Indiana University (Bloomington) and now teaches and conducts brain research at the University of North Florida. When she reads fiction, she wants to encounter new ideas and lots of imagination. She wants to view the world in a different way. She wants to have her mind blown. She loves beautiful language and has no patience for dull prose, vapid romance, or cheesy dialogue. She prefers complex characterization, intriguing plots, and plenty of action. Favorite authors are Jack Vance, Robin Hobb, Kage Baker, William Gibson, Gene Wolfe, Richard Matheson, and C.S. Lewis.

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