Ethan is an exceptionally gifted young boy, obsessed with physics and astronomy.
His single mother Claire is fiercely protective of her brilliant, vulnerable son. But she can’t shield him forever from learning the truth about what happened to him when he was a baby; why Mark had to leave them all those years ago.
Now age twelve, Ethan is increasingly curious about his past, especially his father’s absence in his life. When he intercepts a letter to Claire from Mark, he opens a lifetime of feelings that, like gravity, will pull the three together again.
Relativity is a tender and triumphant story about unbreakable bonds, irreversible acts, and testing the limits of love and forgiveness.
Antonia Hayes, who grew up in Sydney and spent her twenties in Paris, currently lives in London with her husband and son. Relativity is her first novel.
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This book starts with a heart-stopping opening of four-month old Ethan having stopped breathing this is a book that really defies pigeon-holing as a distinct type of book. There is the discovery ten years later of what happened on that day, but there is also a lot about physics, a boy living with a brain injury and the relationship between a mother and her son to name but a few of the topics covered in this immensely readable novel.
Twelve year old Ethan lives in Australia with his mother Claire and he can ‘see’ physics. He is the nerdy child in the class, his friends now scoring any gift that is academic and is finding it hard to find his place in the world. He is also a boy who knows practically nothing about his father, least of all the fact that Mark was convicted of harming him as a baby.
Antonia Hayes walks an incredibly delicate line when reaching back into the past to discover what happened to Ethan one day when he was in the care of his father and she does so without resorting to clichés which in turn makes this a book that has all the shades between black and white. For that alone she deserves the plaudits that she has received across the world for Relativity. Into that mix she uses a lot of physics metaphors to explain both physics and life. Don’t worry if you’re not sure what worm-holes (except for those made by worms) are though because the explanations never get so complex that this relatively simple soul could follow the theory.
At its heart though, once the physics and the searching for the truth are taken out of the equation, this is a story about relationships of which we are treated to many. There is the most important one to Ethan, that between him and his mother. The woman who has protected and cared for him for his whole life, and so once the revelation comes that she hasn’t been honest with him, he has to renegotiate his view. When admitted to hospital Ethan strikes up a relationship with a girl who suffers with severe epilepsy and discovers true friendship, not like that he shared with his boyhood friend Will but one where the two don’t have to share each other’s interests but can use them to discover truths in their own lives. There is also the relationship that Ethan wants with his father, and all the difficulties that brings with it especially as Mark himself has a fractured relationship with his dying father and his brother.
Ethan’s narrative was believable given his gift for physics and although I guess his age was chosen to make some of the decisions he made and the lack of supervision realistic, he did come across at times as someone younger, except of course when discussing his phenomenal knowledge of theoretical physics! Children’s voices are always hard to do well and
Relativity is a touching story which thankfully falls well-short of every becoming mawkish thanks in part to the physics which, while at times lends a whimsical feel, actually keeps the book taut in its execution by removing the need for endless navel-gazing. I really do prefer books to allow the actions and dialogue do the talking, thereby allowing the reader to reach their own conclusions and this is one such book.
Antonia Hayes credit Angelo Sgambati