A Gothic twist on the classic tale of innocents abroad, The Zero and the One is a meditation on the seductions of friendship and the power of dangerous ideas that registers the dark, psychological suspense of Patricia Highsmith’s The Talented Mr. Ripley and the intellectual and philosophical intrigue of John Banville’s The Book of Evidence.
A shy, bookish scholarship student from a working-class family, Owen Whiting has high hopes of what awaits him at Oxford, only to find himself adrift and out of place among the university’s dim aristocrats and posh radicals. But his life takes a dramatic turn when he is assigned to the same philosophy tutorial as Zachary Foedern, a visiting student from New York City. Rich, brilliant, and charismatic, Zach takes Owen under his wing, introducing him to a world of experiences Owen has only ever read about. From the quadrangles of Oxford to the seedy underbelly of Berlin, they practice what Zach preaches, daring each other to transgress the boundaries of convention and morality, until Zach proposes the greatest transgression of all: a suicide pact. But when Zach’s plans go horribly awry, Owen is left to pick up the pieces in the sleek lofts and dingy dives of lower Manhattan. Now he must navigate the treacherous boundary between illusion and reality if he wants to understand his friend and preserve a hold on his once bright future.