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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
on 14 November 2010
If Patricia Highsmith wrote dystopian fiction but had more of a sense of humor, it might be something like The Miracle Inspector. The book opens in an England of the near future that's been partitioned and in decay. London proper seems to have the worst of it, walled off and Taliban-like in its social clampdown. Women can't leave the home. The Arts are off-limits. Men work meaningless bureaucratic jobs that only serve the faceless authority that keeps them all locked in, both socially and interpersonally. The book focuses on one couple, Lucas and Angela, who think they once loved each other but are really just strangers passing each other constantly. An aging and legendary underground poet, Jesmond, fuels their secret needs to escape to that sought-after heaven, Cornwall. They're all not especially likable, but they're always a little more so than those around them, chipping away at them. It works.

The saddest part might not be that they can't have what they want, but rather that they don't truly know what they'd want if they could have it.

I mention Patricia Highsmith because Smith deftly works in the dark urges and fears of Lucas, Angela and others in a way that only psychological mystery and espionage writers like Highsmith and Graham Greene do well. The story manages to remind of 1984, Brazil, Children of Men, The Road and other noirish dystopian tales yet manages to be original, partially through the dark and often subtle humor. Yes, I'm mixing films with books here, because I think this would make a good film script.

If I could give this 4.5 stars I would, but as we know we have to choose between 4s and 5s. I would have like to have had more setup and background about how England became this way, but that's also a product of me liking the story enough.

I'll be reading more from this author.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on 2 January 2013
What's your favourite cause of dystopian society? Nuclear apocalypse? Viral pandemic? Economic crash and burn? The London of this book has contrived to put itself under a dystopian yoke through democracy! Entrusted with power, the people have demonstrated either apathy or irony in their chocies. Consequently London has saddled itself with a mad self-aggrandising bureaucracy of nonsensical jobs, such as Lucas' Inspector Of Miracles. Though there is a vague unstated threat of worldwide terrorism, more local threats of rapists and paedophiles at large, have led to women being prohibited from work, having no political rights, are being largely confined to the house and having to wear burka-like garments when outside in public.

Art too falls foul of this regime, since art offers outlets for protest and politicisation. In a world without art there is a diminished notion of love. The novel's husband and wife main characters struggle across the kitchen table to communicate to one another, let alone approach any notion of love. They cast their fantasies and desires outside of their shared house. Angela although she doesn't understand the concept, wants to be a poet's muse. Her mind flies with some love letters she's been entrusted with which like her, dream of escape beyond London. Lucas visits the wife of his security chief who has been under surveillance so that Lucas wants to put flesh on the fantasy figure he has been a witness to on screen. In the flesh however, she is covered up behind her burka-like raiment. In his job as the official investigator into claims of miracles, he becomes attached to a mute girl who only communicates by smiling. He knows she has no miraculous powers, yet something about her and her mother who was formerly a news reader means they are included in his plans to escape from London

The characters' thought processes are impressionistic and mainly inconclusive. After all, they are overwhelmed by trying to match their own analytical abilities with the thoughts and necessary conditions on their behaviour embedded by the system. Echoes of Orwell's "1984" here. Put this together with the feminist perspective suggested by the regressive legislation affecting women and you might conceive this to be a political novel. But Smith is far more subtle than that. The novel is more an investigation into the true nature and possibility of love. Characters come to empathise with others around them, make sacrifices, demonstrate an awareness of the 'other'. Verbal communication itself may remain stunted, but a real emotional mutuality is attained. The ending for Lucas and Angela is utterly heart-rending. The young poet who has the novel's final words makes your mouth fall open with the simple but poignant observation he offers.

I described Smith's previous novel as 'slyly subversive'. This novel is all that and more.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on 3 October 2012
In The Miracle Inspector, I guess we are about 50 years in the future, in London, England. Women can't work outside the home and cannot go anywhere except to the shops and to family (there is an official at the Ministry to check out people's family relationships to make sure women are really visiting relations and not strangers or friends).

Lucas has a good job at the Ministry as a miracle inspector. When a miracle is being reported, he goes to check it out. So far, no genuine miracles have been found, although the public do their best to make up their own miracles (the face of the Virgin Mary in a flan, etc.).
Lucas is a well-off man, with his own car, a rarity in London, and a nice house. His wife is Angela, a clever woman, but stuck to a boring life at their home. The couple make plans to escape to Cornwall, where they would be free, but they need passes to get there. Their attempt to escape London lead to serious consequences for Lucas and Angela.

This book reminded me of The Handmaid's Tale (Margaret Atwood) to start with, because of the restrictions to women. These were society's restrictions, and within their marriage, Lucas didn't feel it was right that a woman like Angela had to spend all her time at home. On the other hand, he was a product of his society, so I didn't feel completely comfortable with the way he thought about their situation.
Later on, the book had some elements of The Carhullan Army (Sarah Hall). But while there were similarities with that book and with The Handmaid's Tale,
The Miracle Inspector was definitely a unique book in its own right.

I loved how the society's rules were made up by the people themselves. At some point, people were allowed to make the laws and some very odd regulations followed. Many of the rules were formed based on three (perceived) threats: everyone was a potential terrorist, rapist, or paedophile. Because of terrorists, people could not freely travel; because of rapists, women should not leave the house; and because of paedophiles, hardly any schooling existed any more. In London, there was a rumour that in Spain, pre-school children were often looked after by their grandparents during the day (when the Spanish women worked). But this was considered very unlikely, as you could hardly trust even the children's own fathers with their kids, let alone the grandparents!

So, there were a lot of funny things in this book, but the plot is more serious. Angela discovers that life on the other side of the (London) fence isn't so great everywhere either, and at some point she wishes she was safely back at home. The book's ending is somewhat open, but it doesn't take too much imagination to think what would happen next.

The world Angela and Lucas were living in seemed well thought-out, and I would have loved to know more about Cornwall, the place (besides Australia) that
every Londoner wanted to escape to.

The book was well-written and a pleasure to read.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
TOP 1000 REVIEWERon 15 August 2010
This is the third novel by Helen Smith. In The Miracle Inspector, the author's trademark humour leaks through the dialogue, in the wonderful verbal shorthand between the characters. Helen Smith's writing is confident and competent, always full of surprises. She has a real knack for using the unexpected to draw the reader into the story, creating tension, while maintaining a secretive intimacy.

The story is set in a dictatorship which is what London has become in a not-so-difficult-to-imagine future. Corruption is rife amongst its cliquey government departments, incomprehensible hierarchies and arbitrarily distributed privileges. Lucas has all the skills to be Winston Smith, the man who rewrites the news in Orwell's 1984, but here he is an inspector of miracles, though he has little hope of ever finding one. A subtext of disturbing menace is gradually revealed beneath a thin layer of urban domesticity. Women are forbidden to work outside the house and are permitted only to visit female relatives. Paranoia and mistrust multiply amidst rumour and the certainty of `disappearances'. No-one, it seems, survives to die of old age.

There is a constant tension between Lucas and his wife Angela - what he thinks she may be thinking is never what she is actually thinking. This causes the high-ranking official great unhappiness and he struggles with finding a solution. The humour serves to make the tragedy of miscommunication and misunderstanding all the more intense.

This story illustrates, with a curious beauty, how bewildering fantasy and irrationality can become the everyday experience of a population trapped in such circumstances; how far the human mind may retreat into imagination to defy and escape from the horrors of interrogation.

Subtly terrifying, this is the author's most important book to date. The novel is at least partially influenced by Helen Smith's work as a mentor to exiled writers at the Medical Foundation for the Care of Victims of Torture. An antidote to complacency; if you feel at all contented with the world as it is, you must read this.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 11 November 2012
The Miracle Inspector is very different to Alison Wonderland, another of Smith's novels which I read first, and this is part of what makes it so enjoyable. There are some authors I enjoy because they stick to the same genre and offer the same style of writing whereas there are others who are equally enjoyable because they cover a huge range of different genres and writing styles, Smith is in the latter group. Before I get too rambly, here's a quick synopsis of the novel:

A dystopian thriller set in the near future. England has been partitioned and London is an oppressive place where poetry has been forced underground, theatres and schools are shut, and women are not allowed to work outside the home. A young couple, Lucas and Angela, try to escape from London - with disastrous consequences

Not the longest synopsis and not one that I'd suggest gives the novel the full credit it deserves. If I hadn't read the other book first I may not have given The Miracle Inspector a go based on this short description, however, I'm extremely glad I did. Dystopian fiction isn't usually the kind of thing I go for but in this context I really enjoyed it, particularly because of the dark humour Smith employs throughout. The Miracle Inspector introduces us to a London markedly different to the one we know today, walled off and kept as a separate state from others across the UK. In this strange dystopian London nothing is recognisable, women are not permitted to work outside the home and men are employed in faceless office jobs, with weird titles. The novel focuses on young married couple Lucas and Angela and from the off it's hard to tell whether their relationship is genuine or a product of their confused society. Lucas is the eponymous Miracle Inspector and he spends his days looking at pieces of toast which bear the face of deities and other far fetched potential miracles mainly hatched by women going slightly mad in their society-induced house arrests.

Lucas and Angela make the decision to try and escape London and make their way to the much dreamed of Cornwall but there's always a underlying feeling that neither knows what the other truly wants and indeed, society has made it so that they might not even know themselves. This results in disastrous consequences and tragedy.

Writing this review has made me realise this novel can sound extremely complex but this isn't the case at all, it's extremely direct and well plotted so the reader is kept engaged from beginning to end. The characters aren't particularly deep but they don't need to be as it's the society which is the most interesting element of all, for me anyway. Smith has created a fascinating and unnervingly believable world. This novel could have been deeply depressing, plunging the reader into absolute despair but in reality as Smith injects dark humour throughout the reader can thoroughly enjoy this novel as well as finding many unanswered questions to plague them at the end.

A great read.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 20 October 2012
Welcome to the dark side of P. G. Wodehouse; those of you who are accustomed to his clever, wickedly funny writing will find much of it in Helen Smith's near future dystopian thriller "The Miracle Inspector". While I will confess that I have never acquired a taste for Wodehouse's comedic fiction, Smith's novel reads like the unexpected love child of Wodehouse mixed with Kurt Vonnegut and Philip K. Dick in this subtle, surprisingly compelling, near future dystopian SF novel that is among the better examples of recent dystopian fiction I have encountered, and one that is far more compelling than anything I have read written by writers on my side of the Atlantic Ocean. Smith paints a vividly disturbing, but still engrossing, depiction of a near future Great Britain undergoing a harsh, quite precipitous, decline in which the country has been separated between a barely civilized rural landscape noted for its vigilante justice despite the presence of United Nations peacekeepers, and a totalitarian London in which women are denied the right to work outside their homes. Thinking they might find a happier, more fulfilling life for themselves in rural Cornwall, a young couple, Lucas, "the Miracle Inspector" working for a government ministry, and Angela, his almost simple-minded, wife, begin plotting their escape. What ensues is an almost relentless litany of tragic errors as their best laid plans are torn asunder by unexpected circumstances. Smith excels in depicting a near future Great Britain not so dissimilar than the present, creating a near future world in which the present is merely prologue to a surprisingly credible future, via a most simple, yet still descriptive, prose. Readers intent on reading a far more dramatic vision of a dystopian future will miss the subtle, often sly, social commentary that lurks within the pages of Smith's novel; hers is a vision that is quite compelling in its own right, and one as noteworthy as Gary Shteyngart's in his P. G. Wodehouse Award-winning novel "Super Sad True Love Story".
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 7 September 2012
Angela and Lucas could be any young couple at the start of their marriage: often unsure of themselves and each other, making mistakes and missteps, yet very much in love. But Angela and Lucas live in a dystopian London, sealed off from the rest of the country, where women are forced to stay at home to protect their children from paedophiles and the soldiers can take seize the men if they decide they might be terrorists. Despite Lucas's comfortable (and curious) government job as the inspector of miracles (better that than the inspector of cats), neither wants to stay. They want freedom. They want to escape to Cornwall. When Lucas meets Maureen - and her miracle, Christina - he sees an opportunity to take his wife away.

Helen Smith crafts a subtle novel with language so seemingly straightforward that it would be easy to miss what's not being said. Lucas, besotted with his wife and his own internal concerns, misses the meaning of the miracles (and the obscenities) happening right in front of him. The tone, at the start, is comic - almost whimsical - inviting you to laugh at the odd government offices or the tendency of poets towards pomposity. There is some sly satire too of the genre of feminist dystopia within which the book sits. But Smith is in charge throughout: she never loses sight of the tragedy of this situation nor of her characters' plight, and she tightens the screw gently but inexorably, drawing it all together with great skill. This is a compassionate and very intelligent book.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 15 August 2012
This story is set in London in the near future; it's a London that in some ways feels very familiar, but in some ways is scarily different from the London of today. Counties have been partitioned off, and Londoners are effectively trapped in their city. To escape, they have to literally go underground, and risk their lives. Women are not allowed to work - indeed, are not even allowed outside their house unless they are covered with a veil. The fear of paedophilia is so immense that men are frightened of spending time with any child who is not their own, and even then, only with their wife present. Theatre and books are banned, and any kind of culture is considered anarchic.

Living in the middle of all this are young couple Lucas and Angela. Lucas works for the sinister Ministry, as a Miracle Inspector - his days are spent visiting people who claim to have discovered a genuine miracle, but so far every `miracle' has been a fraud, or the wishful thinking of the claimant. Lucas and Angela make plans to leave London, but it turns out to be much harder than anyone could imagine.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book. Dystopia is one of my favourite genres, and fans of such books as Nineteen Eighty-Four and The Handmaid's Tale, would almost certainly enjoy this novel. I found it scarily believable; a world that was all too easy to imagine, where fear of paedophilia and terrorism has curtailed people's freedom to an extreme level.

It is not spoilerish to say that at one part, Angela finds herself outside London, as a refugee, and the story drew parallels with how asylum seekers are treated in the real world, with mistrust and fear.

The writing is very `clean' - no words are wasted here - and it flows beautifully. The different subplots tie together nicely and despite the subject, there is genuine humour here as well.

Overall, I definitely enjoyed this book, and will be seeking out Helen Smith's other books. Definitely recommended, especially to fans of dystopian fiction.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
This novel is set in a dystopian near future: England has been partitioned and London is a walled and suspicious place. Theatres, libraries and schools have been closed and women are no longer allowed to work outside their homes. The older generation have mostly disappeared, as does anyone who speaks out about the government.
Lucas, who lives in London with his wife Angela, is the miracle inspector. It's his job to investigate and report on claimed miracles. And, in an oppressive environment with few creative outlets many miracles are claimed. Angela is lonely and unhappy. They dream of escaping to Cornwall where, they believe, people are free to live as they choose.
A woman named Maureen requests a miracle inspection in respect of her daughter Christina. Lucas investigates, and finds himself taking Angela to meet Maureen and Christina. This is forbidden: women are only allowed to visit other women to whom they are related.

`Men made the laws. Women set out to exploit the loopholes in them.'

This is an unsettling and bleak world: Angela dreams of escape, fuelled by reading letters dropped off at her home by Lucas's uncle Jesmond - an outlawed poet. Lucas sees himself as largely invisible as he operates outside the law. Plans are made to leave London, but nothing goes according to plan. The wisdom of elders is needed, but missing. The consequences of choices are not anticipated, the outcomes are never comforting.

In fewer than 250 pages, Ms Smith creates an unsettling and incomplete world. Aspects are disconcertingly recognisable, others are alien. Many parts of the world have harsh restrictions on citizens - the cause is not always clear, even if the immediate effect is. And what of the long-term? Beyond the memories of the past? I found this novel unsettling, disturbing, and worth reading.

Note: I was offered, and accepted, a copy of this book for review purposes.

Jennifer Cameron-Smith
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 5 August 2012
Something terrible has happened to London. Whatever that something is it has stripped London of all that we know it to be in real life. No longer a vibrant multicultural multiparty hub but a city whose inhabitants have finally given in to their fears creating a apocalyptic-style scenario that has turned London and those who live in it dismal, empty and soulless. This is a London where fear of terrorism has won rendering it a cut-off city with grounded planes, ensuring that the only place anyone will go to is a place much like hell once they are whisked away by the authorities 'never to be seen again'.

Helen Smith has managed to create a reality where the easy way out solution is key to everything. Paedophilia a scare? Let's shut down schools and libraries so our children are no longer exposed to strangers. Rape on the increase? Lock the women at home, strip them of their right to work and then cover them head to toe when they do venture out. The Arts inflaming hearts and instigating change? Abolish them, hunt down the artists and make sure they are made an example. Now that this is all done, Helen Smith challenges you to think; Safe or sorry?

Lucas and Angela are a married couple who live in this new London. Lucas, very much in love with his wife works at the Ministry as a miracle inspector whose job consists of checking out reports of people who say they have witnessed a miracle and validating the authenticity of those claims. Angela is a bored housewife who has hopes and dreams but spends most of her days memorising the long names of dinosaurs from the encyclopedias she salvaged from the local library before it shut down just to get through the mundane task of shaking out the mat and polishing the taps. That is until one day, Lucas's godfather Jesmond, stops by and hands Angela a journal full of poems and letters that provide for a sort of entertainment in her life. Lucas and Angela are both barely in their early twenties and yet life seems to have aged them well before their time.

Lucas meets Maureen (a former newsreader) who claims that her daughter Christina is the miracle. The only proof to her claim is that the child only smiles when she likes someone. Lucas introduces his wife to Maureen and her daughter, an unwise move in these terrible times as women are only allowed to associate with female relatives. Things take a different and dangerous turn for Lucas and Angela and their lives are completely changed.

This is a very interesting thought-provoking book. A fantastic book club pick. I enjoyed its directness and the power it gives to the reader's imagination to fill in the gaps rendering it a work of horror at times. Although laced with humour this is far from a humorous read. Dark and disturbing where at times survival alone is a miracle in disguise!
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