Top critical review
One person found this helpful
A novel based on an idea!
on 14 August 2012
It's not giving anything away to mention this book is about the social, political and security consequences that follow Hope Morrison's decision not to take the "Fix", a wonder drug that if taken during pregnancy "fixes" the genes of the baby in the womb with the result that the child is born immune to a range of childhood illnesses.
I was rather disappointed with the start of this novel as it fell into the trap of any novel written with a message. The first few chapters made it feel like a book written to give a message. These chapters dealt with introducing the characters, giving some background indications of the state of technology and the global political situation, and edging the reader into the space where issues of freedom, choice and liberty could come to the fore. I won't spoil the book by giving away specifics, but I felt the roles played by the characters were a bit stereotypical and everything was focused on setting the story up for the message and nothing included for window dressing or decoration. Sub plots do not play a significant part in this book.
Once Hope meets her local Member of Parliament at a rally for the Labour Party the book does step up a gear and the action flows much faster from there on in.
Ken wrote this book while he was Writer in Residence at the ESRC Genomics Policy and Research Forum at Edinburgh University. As is obvious from his blog and other publications, Ken loved his work with the Genomic Forum and it was only natural that he should write a book on the subject and that he should weave in his excellent understanding of social issues and politics.
The message I took from the book was that a country that is implementing policies and laws based on good intentions in relation to childcare, health, etc... could display all the hallmarks of a totalitarian state, especially if the global socio-political environment gives rise to strong security agencies. I got a hint of Ken complaining abut the "Nanny State" and venting some irritation against the smoking ban in the UK. If I were a psychologist I'm sure I could interpret this entire novel as a lash at the UK government for banning smoking in workplaces.
I was disappointed however, to see Ken regularly using singular verbs with plural subjects in his reported speech. It doesn't help the standard of English usage if a well regarded author reinforces sloppy grammar.
Ken was good at portraying the feeling of living in a state where the population is constantly under surveillance. While the level of technology was different his writing did remind me of when I lived in Northern Ireland during the 1970s with constant surveillance by the army and police. The interactions with the members of the security forces were particularly realistic.
I enjoyed Ken's descriptions of Lewis. Given that the author grew up on Lewis it is obvious where he got his material and he demonstrated an intimate knowledge of the terrain and the difficulties of traversing it on foot.
Another attractive element was seeing the similarities between Scottish Gaelic and Irish Gaelic. All the Gaelic words Ken used are pronounced the same way in Irish Gaelic, but the spellings are quite different. Also, the legend of Tir Nan Og (in Irish, "Tír na nÓg") is obviously the same on both sides of the North Channel. If you are not familiar with the tales of Tir Nan Og you should look them up. Knowledge of these would give a better understanding of what happens at the end of the book.
The book is a good read once one gets past the initial introductions and scene setting. Despite some silly, and somewhat extraordinary decisions by the characters, the book is enjoyable.