Monday, 5 September 2011

The Testament of Jessie Lamb

The Testament of Jessie Lamb by Jane Rogers (Sandstone Press 2011)

This is one of the more unlikely  picks for the Booker prize longlist, published by a small publishing house in the highlands Scotland and extraordinarily difficult to purchase if you live in  North America where this particular book has no distribution deal.  Set not far in to the future a virus has spread affecting the entire world's population, some sort of cross between Aids and CJD, the effects of which are that any woman who gets pregnant soon develops a rather unfortunate Swiss cheese effect on her brain and dies before the infant can come to term.

In what could be described as a cross between Kazuo Ishiguro's 'Never Let Me Go' and Margaret Atwood's 'The Handmaid's Tale' the novel is told by the eponymous sixteen year old Jessie Lamb, in part as a remembrance of events past and in part first person narrative of Jessie, locked up by her geneticist father for her decision to volunteer to be a 'sleeping beauty': a sacrificial lamb who accepts an unaffected frozen embryo and is put into a coma giving just enough time for proper gestation.

The book details a world falling apart millions of women perish and world faces the prospect of no new human life on the planet. Society fractures as religious, feminist, youth and animal rights groups try to force their agenda through ever more militant methods. It is a world in which future prospects are gloomy and any solutions no matter how extreme are considered.

As I mentioned above, this isn't typical Booker territory and  you would be hard pushed to find anyone who would contend that this is one of the thirteen best eligible books of this year. The structure of the book is unfortunate as it essentially tells you how the book will end right from the beginning, the characters of Jessie's parents are poorly developed and the mood of the novel is unfalteringly dire, okay the last criticism could well be used against any dystopian literature. It is an interesting concept for a book but I'm afraid it's just not quite good enough for Booker material and I can't see it making the short list.