The Universe Versus Alex Woods by Gavin Extence

The Universe Versus Alex Woods

Five words from the blurb: conventional, life, choices, right, uproar

It is almost impossible to review this book without giving away spoilers; in fact every review I’ve seen so far has mentioned something I’d have preferred to keep secret. As a compromise I’m going to let you know that this is a fantastic book. It deserves to become a word-of-mouth bestseller and if you enjoy entertaining books that don’t shy away from difficult subjects (e.g. The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time or Room) then you are bound to love this one. If you don’t mind mild spoilers you are welcome to read on. Major spoilers will be written in white text – just highlight the passage to read it.

Alex Woods is seventeen-years-old. The book begins with a custom’s officer in Dover discovering a large amount of marijuana and an urn full of ashes in his car.

His gaze shifted, his eyes widened. He signalled for me to wait and spoke into his walkie-talkie, rapidly and with obvious agitation. That was the instant I knew for sure. I found out later that my picture had been circulated in every major port from Aberdeen to Plymouth. With that and the TV appeals, I never stood a chance.

The reason for the national manhunt is slowly revealed in a gripping narrative that effortlessly switches from humour to darkness.

I loved the build up and the way snippets of information were skilfully dropped through the text, but I’m afraid the ending wasn’t quite perfect. I felt the reader was subjected to a bit of a rant and whilst I agreed with point of view being made (subject revealed in spoiler below) I think the discussion was one sided. I’d have preferred to see the issues investigated in more depth, with some negative aspects included. This would have shown the full complexity of this difficult subject and the turmoil of emotion faced by the families of those involved. 


This book deals with euthanasia. The relationship between Alex and the elderly gentleman, Mr Peterson, was beautifully drawn. The subject was handled sensitively, but is bound to have a more profound effect on those who disagree that a person has a right to choose when they die.

Alex is a wonderful character and I loved the quirky, unpredictable course of his life. It will be fantastic to discuss this book with everyone and I’m looking forward to seeing it rush up the best seller charts.



23 replies on “The Universe Versus Alex Woods by Gavin Extence”

I didn’t read the spoilers this time…I am usually the one who will read them just because. But I do want to read this book. I’m going to see if I can find it on audio, since I will have a 95% greater chance of getting to it that way.

Sandy, It is available on audio, but I don’t think it released in the US until June. 🙁 Hopefully the American buzz will be just as strong, it will work well on audio and you enjoy it as much as I did.

This is the second recommendation I’ve had for this book. I am going to need to read it ASAP! Thanks for hiding the spoilers by the way, I never want to know the end of the book before reading it if I can help it. I always had to read the Harry Potter books within days of release so I could avoid anyone telling me what happened.

Gemma, I’m really spoiler sensitive so I’m pleased I read this before all the reviews appeared. Spoilers were flying round twitter today too. 🙁 I know exactly what you mean about reading Harry Potter quickly – I did exactly the same thing and managed to avoid hearing any of the plot before I’d read about it. I hope you enjoy this one as much as I did.

I haven’t read the spoilers you’ve written because I’m thinking of reading it (the cover is to good to ignore). I’d have to keep in mind the one-sidedness you’ve mentioned, because that would likely bother me a bit too.

Charlie, I’d be interested to know if it does bother you. I think most people will probably love it anyway, but I do like it when moral dilemmas become more complex.

We don’t usually disagree on many books but this has to be one of them! I only managed 50 pages and gave up. I felt like it was just trying far too hard to be quirky and funny and it was all very contrived. I didn’t hate it, but it just wasn’t for me. But I do think for anyone who loved The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time they will probably enjoy Alex Woods. I’m quite glad you put a spoiler up as I was vaguely intrigued to see what was going to happen, but just not enough to read on, and after reading said spoiler, I’m even more glad I didn’t!

Emma, Yes. I can see why it might feel contrived. I was too busy enjoying the quirkiness of it as I’m getting bored of books that are so predictible. I take it you didn’t enjoy Curious Incident either? At least you know know how this one ends 🙂

Chinoiseries, Spoilers are a big annoyance for me so I’m very careful not to drop any myself. I hope that you enjoy this book if you get around to reading it.

Jackie – I hadn’t heard of this book and on your recommendation sought it out. I finished it yesterday and loved it!!! Alex’s clear eyed narration made me laugh out loud at times but it also brought a tear to my eye at other times. Wonderful, wonderful book!! My almost 15 year old daughter is currently reading it although I have reservations as to whether she’ll “get” all of it.

I have been reading your blog for a while and while I don’t always agree with your reviews – they are always honest and generous enough so that even if YOU don’t like the book, you don’t make me feel that I won’t! Thank you.

Kate, Thank you for the kind words! I’m so pleased that you liked the book and that you’ve been able to pass it on to your daughter. Reading is so subjective. It can be hard to express exactly why I enjoy/dislike certain books, but it is good to know that you can read my reviews and not be put off even when I dislike them. Thanks for leaving your first comment. I hope that you leave many more in the future as it is always good to share thoughts on books 🙂

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