A Crack in the Line is the first volume of Lawrence’s much trumpeted ‘brilliant and unpredictable trilogy The Aldous Lexicon’. 16-year-olds Alaric and Naia discover that they are each living the other’s life in alternate realities, even though Alaric is a boy and Naia a girl. The story is set in 2005 in a county in the UK which ‘does not officially exist’ – all we know is that it’s a county hard to place in the south of England in which it snows heavily over half-term. Alaric and Naia both live at Withern Rise, a big nineteenth-century house on the banks of a river.
In Alaric’s world, his mother died in a train crash two years earlier and his father has hooked up with another woman. The house is a mess, he’s doing very badly at school and over half-term he has to put up with his aunt, the mad older sister of his mother. In Naia’s world, her mother – the same Alex Underwood who is Alaric’s mother – survived the crash and then won the lottery so the house is newly decorated and they have a new car. The aunt doesn’t exist as she was aborted before birth.
Lawrence creates many inviting and intriguing worlds in this novel, some of which overlap and occasionally confuse but which will surely become clearer and more real as the trilogy develops. There’s the two versions of the twenty-first-century Underwood family, one with a warm and stylish house and the other with a broken boiler and dust everywhere; the stories about ‘Bishop Underwood’, the Victorian patriarch who built the house and seduced the local women; and the third and fourth alternate worlds that Alaric stumbles upon, one with murdering burglars and the other with another Alaric. The mysterious character Aldous Underwood, who gives his name to the trilogy, is perhaps the key to these many worlds but readers will evidently have to wait for the second and third instalments to find out. Lawrence also leaves readers waiting for more revelations when he writes two alternative endings – do Naia and Alaric swap lives or not?