Huge thanks as ever to our wonderful Superstar Guest star @AlisonNeale for providing us with this terrific write up. She has become the de facto leader of Giraffe LBC (whether she knows it or not) and an truly great person to know!
From the Author (from Amazon)
My favorite dystopian novels are Nineteen Eighty-Four by George Orwell, The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood, Brave New World by Aldous Huxley, and The Children of Men by P D James (which was made into one of my favorite dystopian films, Children of Men, by Alfonso Cuarón).
The Miracle Inspector is a blackly comic dystopian novel inspired by my time spent volunteering as a mentor for exiled writers in London through British charity Freedom from Torture.
Rather than try to tell the stories of the people I met, I wondered what it would be like if I had to flee from London without money or possessions. How would I escape? What kind of reception would I get if I arrived somewhere without money or possessions, with little understanding of the culture? How would I know who to trust? That was my starting point. I hope people will finish the book asking some of the questions I started with.
About the characters
As I sat down to write, I had this image of a man and a woman sitting in their kitchen at breakfast time, unable to communicate--as if this was the 1950s and they had been locked into a stifling marriage for thirty years. But then it would become clear that they were very young --in their early twenties--and that the setting was a nightmarish future in which women have been stripped of many of the rights and benefits that we take for granted in modern society, and they have to be cautious about what they say, even in their own homes.
The young couple are called Lucas and Angela. I wanted the first half of the book to be Lucas's story and for Angela to emerge more strongly in the second half as she takes responsibility for her life and starts to find her voice. I had a good idea of how the story would unfold before I sat down to plot it. I wanted this young couple to try to flee London and for everything to go wrong.
If that sounds a bit heavy, I ought to say that although it's not as frivolous as my two earlier books, Alison Wonderland and Being Light, there's plenty of humor in The Miracle Inspector. I hope readers will enjoy it, despite the moments of sadness.
The Miracle Inspector by Helen Smith caused something of a split in opinion. In an issue that has arisen before when discussing dystopian novels, some readers wanted a feeling for the world but concentration on characters and plot, while others wanted detail, detail and more detail. This novel satisfied the former group: plotlines went unexplained and the causes of the strangely isolated London of the story were never fleshed out. Some book clubbers felt that what was known of the situation, while possible in our tabloid-obsessed society, could not have happened quite as rapidly as suggested. It was perhaps a little too ‘convenient’ to appear realistic. However, there was some discussion of how scarily close the circumstances of women in the novel matched those of some countries today, and recent events in Egypt show how quickly existing freedoms can be lost. Book clubbers pointed out that, as we have seen in the UK, freedoms are lost bit by bit, in an almost inconsequential manner. The fear of relationships and human interaction was certainly an interesting, rather modern theme, and the reactions of the escapees to life in Slough, with its nail varnish and online dating were quite insightful, although some readers felt they were a little simplistic: the point was delivered with a sledgehammer, someone said. Perhaps our biggest problem with the book was that the characters were unsympathetic and the relationships unconvincing. It is possible that some further dystopian detail might have made up for this. What detail did appear was enjoyable, such as the havoc that UN peacekeepers were causing in the countryside, and the utopian ideal of Cornwall - not entirely unknown today! The lack of detail was lauded in the torture scenes, and yet an oddly brutal murder scene earlier made us query the dual approach to portrayal of violence. Everyone, I think, liked the ending with its lack of resolution, which we felt worked well with the odd, varied pacing of the latter half of the book. One particular complaint made here, but more generally applicable to dystopian fiction we’ve read so far, was (and I quote) that ‘no one gets to enjoy a nice bit of sex’. Sex is often shorthand for a Bad Thing, be that an opiate or comfort blanket to avoid facing the bigger questions, or simply used to make a point of hypocrisy. In conclusion, then, everyone agreed that the shining reviews in various newspapers and online seemed thoroughly at odds with what they had read and, sadly, the scores reflect this. This was not a satisfying dystopian novel but we all felt that there were some really good ideas that with a little more thought and work could have made a much better story. LBC Note So gutted that I wasn't able to attend the meet up - I really enjoyed this book and would have loved a good debate about it!
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