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on March 23, 2012 :
As a description of an unfortunately plausible near-future dystopia, this book is superb. Due to my busy schedule, it was necessary for me to read it in many sessions, frequently with many days between sessions. During these interruptions, I would emerge from the ghastly Hertfordshire world created by the author (Matthew Spencer) and turn to my American news sources to see what was happening in my real world. Frequently I wondered if I was still in Hertfordshire. In my American world, as in Spencer's Hertfordshire, most people were allowing themselves to be entertained by one outrageous political statement or act of government after another without the slightest degree of moral questioning.
I don't want to reveal any more of the plot than is provided in Spencer's "extended description" of the book. So, if you haven't read that extended description yet, please do so now, because I'll refer below to terms and people in that description.
Without revealing plot details, I can nevertheless provide the readers of this review with a sampling of my observations and reactions. I happen to be an atheist. For that reason, the religious motivations behind some of the characters' actions initially left me mystified. The way I finally successfully dealt with these initially puzzling actions was to view them as simple moral symbols of rejection of the totally amoral world-view being forced on these characters by the Party and the Brotherhood.
As I've already stated, I'm an American. For that reason I had difficulty with some of the British terminology. This problem, too, I was able to solve. The meanings of some words, such as "womble", rapidly became clear from context. Others, such as "spinneys", I could look up in a dictionary.
I found most of Spencer's writing to be clear--even occasionally inspired. But I also found a few examples of rather rough writing, the kind of thing that, I think, could easily have been repaired by a good editor. What's important, though, is that Spencer's style rarely became sufficiently noticeable to draw my attention away from the spellbinding combination of plot and plausible dystopia.
The only time I found my attention wavering was during Spencer's detailed descriptions of the methods by which Jane was able to survive for months, including winter months, on abandoned land and without significant contact with "civilization". As a one-time Boy Scout, I'm interested in such things, but I did find myself wanting to get back to the story. Perhaps Spencer's intention here was to contrast the peacefulness of Jane's isolated situation with the stressful, morally catastrophic world faced by everyone else in the novel.
There are a few shocking scenes in the book. They're not excessive, and they're not put there for the voyeuristic pleasure of the reader. They're intended to open our eyes to the horrors that many human beings will not only tolerate, but will take pleasure in, when some authority figure or other tells them it's OK. I hope the readers of this book will be forewarned and will not, like so many other people in both the real and Spencerian worlds, allow their moral sensibilities to be quenched by their "leaders".
The bottom line is that I very much enjoyed this book, and I look forward to seeing others by Spencer in the future.
(reviewed long after purchase)