Published by Orbit on December 17, 2013
When It's a Jar pushes the multiverse theory to absurd limits ... except, when you think about it (as Tom Holt clearly has), it's impossible to do that because a popular version of the theory assumes that absurd events (indeed, all events) actually occur in some part of the multiverse. There is no limit to absurdity because, in the multiverse, there are no limits at all. Hence Holt's formula for fun.
When is a door not a door? When it could be anything, including a portal between dimensions. In , Holt explored interdimensional travel through a donut hole using something called YouSpace. The doughnuts are present in When It's a Jar, but Holt has added the notion of a "constant object," something that stays the same no matter what dimension it occupies. Rather than spoiling the surprise of what the constant object happens to be, I'll just say that once it's revealed, parts of the novel that seemed to make no sense at all gain meaning while other parts gain new meaning. And that's just cool. Almost as cool, in fact, as the guy living in a jar who manages by a process of reasoning to figure out pretty much everything there is to know until his memories get wiped out, forcing him to start all over ... again and again and again.
The key character in When It's a Jar is hapless Maurice, who (after seeing a levitating doughnut and realizing that physics is whack) has dedicated himself to being an unhappy slacker, a profession that his degree in media studies encourages. Maurice's unwanted destiny is to be a hero (or so he is told, often by complete strangers). Poor Maurice feels displaced, which makes sense given his uncertainty as to his place in the multiverse, an uncertainty that grows as he visits different universes. In the universe he likes best -- the best of all possible worlds -- he is a genius physicist billionaire who married the woman he loves. In the one he inhabits during most of the novel, the woman he loves is shagging his old schoolmate. The heroic act that is expected of Maurice involves Max (last seen in Doughnut) who is also stuck in the wrong part of the multiverse. Max needs Maurice to rescue him and then to save Max's brother, Theo Bernstein (last seen in Doughnut) who is stuck in -- you guessed it -- a jar. Theo, by the way, is also God (sort of -- just read Doughnut).
Holt has an astonishing ability to surround cleverness with goofiness. Some scenes are just wickedly funny, including one in which Katz is drugged and made to tell the truth during a job interview. Some (like an elf's explanation of the reason newspapers endure) are thought-provoking. Yes, there are elves and goblins and dragons, because they have to exist somewhere in the multiverse, but no need to worry -- this isn't a traditional fantasy, and goblins occupy only a small but very funny part of the novel.
You could probably read, understand, and enjoy When It's a Jar without first reading Doughnut, but given the overlapping storylines and the fact that Doughnut is also a very funny book, it's better to read them both. While the two novels share characters and concepts, When It's a Jar moves the story into new dimensions of weirdness. Taken together, they represent a unique, witty, and intelligent take on the multiverse theory.