Friday, 2 September 2011

Book #75 The Testament Of Jessie Lamb by Jane Rogers

The Testament Of Jessie Lamb

My overwhelming reaction to The Testament Of Jessie Lamb, is surprise, surprise in fact that it has been nominated for this years Booker Prize and is currently on the longlist. Not because it's a bad book, in the way that say There But For The by Ali Smith is, in my opinion, a bad book, but because I was surprised it met the criteria as I would have considered it a young adult book which would only be eligible under rule 3g :
g) Children's books will only be accepted on the condition that they have also been published by an adult imprint within the specified dates.
In the case of this book, it appears to have been marketed as adult contemporary fiction and only has an adult imprint, when technically it should have both, a decision I find a little baffling. As a piece of young adult dystopian fiction it is good, but I've read better, most notably The Giver by Lois Lowry and The Knife Of Never Letting Go by Patrick Ness to which it shares a similarity in an aspect of plot.

It lacks much in originality I felt given its similarity in theme to The Children Of Men by PD James, later adapted for the screen starring Clive Owen. In  the world of Jessie Lamb, there has been an act of bio-terrorism, as a consequence there has been a global fertility crisis. When women get pregnant - they die. (Hang on a minute? Wasn't that what happened to pregnant women on the island in LOST as well?)  In this brave new world, set not far from our present, no more children are being born and the population of women is dropping, as those who do get pregnant never survive.

Jessie Lamb is 16, and when we meet her she is being held captive, and she recounts for us what has been happening to ordinary people since the crisis emerged. At 16, Jessie is idealistic and looking for a cause, and causes find her. The animal rights movement, the womens movement, the Noahs, and YOFI. There is a degree of cynicism in Jane Roger's writing about young people who look for a cause to be involved with. You gain a real sense that in Roger's eyes "causes" target the vulnerable and a "cause" is just "another phase" disenchanted young people go through, before growing up, becoming a champagne socialist, and attending a Tory party conference if it's in their interest to do so.  And she probably has a point. Yet, for some people a cause gives their life meaning. Not for nothing I feel did Rogers give her protagonist the surname Lamb. Though again, this is a "clever" connotation in a young adult book, yet a bit patronising for an adult contemporary. 

In terms of subplots, the novel asks interesting questions related to the morals and ethics of Science, particularly IVF and the idea that scientists have long since passed the point of playing God, Rogers just pushes the boundary one step further. Ultimately though I didn't feel that Jessie's testament or sacrifice would have much impact in either the short or long term given the global scale of the issue. Which meant that the ending didn't pack the huge emotional punch it thinks it does. I also found the secondary surrounding characters very poorly drawn, and not even Jessie particularly easy to care about. Maybe when I was 12 I might have found it really important and exciting but I also think that maybe, just maybe I might have found it weak and characters uninspired and uninspiring - pretty much like I do now. I will be shocked if this book leaves the longlist for the shortlist and even more shocked should it win! 6.5/10

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