Scan 31What’s the book about?

Beth is a teacher living on the Isle of Wight (though we’re not told that for a while) in a slightly future Britain where climate change has had a real impact socially and financially. She is on her own; her husband Vic has come back from war with significant problems and has been the victim of a treatment regime which has gone wrong, leaving him unable to communicate or look after himself. The treatment is delivered by The Machine, now out of use because of the damage done, and the story starts with her buying one of these devices on the black market because she wants to bring her husband back be reversing the treatment if she can.

Why did I want to read it?

I’ve read two of Smythe’s novels this year (reviewed here and here) and found both really compelling (if bleak, though I absolutely don’t mind bleak at all if the story warrants it, which both of those did) and always intended to read more, partly because of the number of favourable mentions I’ve seen on other blogs and elsewhere.

What did I think?

I thought this was great, another book that I stayed up late to finish (there have been quite a few of those recently, which is no bad thing) and I was totally absorbed in Beth’s story; I feel it’s important to stress that this really is Beth’s story. Of course Vic is important, there would be no book without him, but this is all about Beth’s loneliness and grief and drive to achieve what she needs, which is to get her husband home despite any risks. This is all against the background of the heat and a dysfunctional community and a friend who turns out to not be what she seems.

The book has been compared to Frankenstein but for me it has more of a resonance with The Monkey’s Paw, in the sense of getting what you wish for and that not being what you thought. Of course there are other layers to this story which, once you have read the end (and I read it twice just to make sure that what had happened had happened) become clearer and explained a key event which was pivotal to the plot but took place “offstage” (I wondered why at the time and came up with an explanation which turned out to be entirely wrong). The end has been much commented on; I don’t have a problem with it as such but I would like to read The Machine again as I’m sure it has made me want to re-read the book to see if I had missed anything obvious.

How you feel about this book will depend on what you think of Beth herself. I felt hugely sorry for her and understood why she thought she had to try to reconstitute Vic but there was always a feeling this wouldn’t end well.

I’ve already got a hold of another Smythe work, saving that for later 🙂

 

 

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