Face: A Novel of the Anthropocene
Touchwood, May 2022
Jaspreet Singh’s third novel Face: A Novel of the Anthropocene marries science with elements of thriller and mystery to hook the reader. Face unfolds through the eyes and memories of an Indian-born science journalist named Lila. While attending a creative writing workshop, Lila becomes friends with her classmate, Lucia. Although the two women come from different corners of the world, Lila discovers they share a chilling connection.
The ‘devil from your past coming back to haunt you’ premise feels familiar, but the characters and plot lend originality. Face takes place in two very different worlds — Calgary, Alberta and Chandigarh University, a private university in Ajitgarh, India. The vastly different locations make the story easy to follow as Face jumps between past and present. Singh tells the story through the eyes of an Indian migrant who lives in Canada, offering a fresh perspective on Western culture and a glance into life at Chandigarh University.
Singh develops the two main characters, Lila, and Lucia, through their blossoming friendship and then introduces a mystery writing, “neither of them was aware that within the next fifty-one days one of them was going to die.” After that, the question of who will die is never far from the reader’s mind.
Although this story is fictional, the author draws on his own life experiences. Singh has a PhD in chemical engineering from McGill University, and Lila is a former geology student turned science journalist who is battling to get her stories into the world. At times, Face feels like a science story written by a scientist — which makes sense given Singh’s background — but these moments are overshadowed by the big questions and mysteries at the heart of Face.
The global threat of climate change is a central theme in the novel. While climate change doesn’t drive the story, it’s a major concern for Lila, who struggles internally with climate anxiety and expresses frustrations with the Albertans she encounters and their hesitancy to listen to climate science.
When Lila reflects on her time as a student at Chandigarh University, the story slows and clues about the present day are carefully revealed. When the story switches back to present-day, the pace quickens, and the novel’s greatest mysteries feel like they’re on the brink of unravelling. Singh skillfully makes readers feel like they are solving a mystery alongside his characters rather than reading about someone else solving a mystery.
Face is for readers who enjoy the suspense of a thriller, the complexity of science, and can identify with or wish to understand climate anxiety. It’s geared towards readers who are writers themselves or those who enjoy reading about writing.