By Chance
Martin Corrick

Random House
Hardcover/229 pages
ISBN: 978-0-375-50813-4
  By Chance: We need the past to create the future.


James Watson Bolsover waits for the ferry to take him away from his past to the possibility of a new job. As he waits, a little girl all in pink wearing rollerblades entertains him, and Bolsover’s mind wanders back to the past, to Kitty and the moments that brought him to the ferry.

Early in Bolsover’s life, a teacher fired his imagination and his obsession with words. Words should say what they mean and mean what they say. There is no room for careless language. Although he lives a small and narrow life, Bolsover clings to his notebooks, his observations and ruminations about the meaning of words – and life – making his way with words until the words are all that he has to guide him in the wake of death and guilt.

It is difficult to find a philosophical milestone among the ranks of modern literature. The likes of Sartre, Goethe and Kafka are gone. Into the breach steps Martin Corrick with By Chance, not with an existential spiral of doom and gloom but with a bright shining light of a novel.

As Corrick slowly reveals his philosophy with Bolsover’s meandering trips through memory, Bolsover changes and moves ever closer to the heart of what it means to be human. Counterpoising a teacher’s tirade about the meaning of tragedy with Bolsover’s understanding of the important difference between luck and chance, Corrick reveals an important truth. Bolsover is every man who has lived a silent and constricted life without regrets suddenly faced with fitting into a large world, unwilling and unable to let go of the idyllic and idealized past until forced to face guilt and his own limitations.

Corrick has left nothing to chance, carefully constructing his philosophical odyssey on solid, uncluttered prose. By Chance is a quiet novel with quiet, unassuming characters, stunning in its simplicity.

Reviewer: J. M. Cornwell