Wednesday, 28 January 2015

Book review: The Ship by Antonia Honeywell


My edition: Hardcover, to be published on 19 February 2015 by Weidenfeld & Nicholson, 309 pages.

Description: Welcome to London, but not as you know it.

Oxford Street burned for three weeks The British Museum is squatted by ragtag survivors The Regent's Park camps have been bombed

The Nazareth Act has come into force. If you can't produce your identity card, you will be shot.

Lalla, 16, has grown up sheltered from the new reality by her visionary father, Michael Paul. But now the chaos has reached their doorstep. Michael has promised Lalla and her mother that they will escape. Escape is a ship big enough to save 500 people. But only the worthy will be chosen.

Once on board, as day follows identical day, Lalla's unease grows. Where are they going? What does her father really want?

Rating:



This is the first novel I received for the Curtis Brown Book Group and the title was a complete surprise to me when it arrived in the post. Not released until February, I wasn't aware of the book yet and I decided to not read the blurb either, but dive straight in. And what a pleasant surprise it was to read a novel this way, without any prior knowledge or expectations. The only thing I had to go on was the cover illustration and from that I assumed it to be a historical fiction book with romantic undertones. I couldn't have been more wrong; it was a complex dystopian tale with a thought-provoking and eye-opening perspective on where we are heading as a society.

Sixteen-year-old Lalla lives in London, but the city is not like we know it today; ID cards are compulsory, without one you're not classified as a citizen and don't have any rights; food and clothing supplies are scarce; squatters have taken control of iconic places such as Regents Park; and Lalla lives in a heavily fortified home, only travelling outside to the nearby British Museum, which serves as her education outside of the regulated information she is fed through her screen.

Depleted of resources, the world has turned into a harrowing shell of what it once was, but Lalla's overprotective parents have created a sheltered and in comparison privileged existence for their daughter. Even more, her father has devoted a considerable amount of time, influence and money on creating a permanent escape, both from the horrors of the city and those who have taken charge after the fall of the government. While Lalla has overheard some conversations between her parents about 'The Ship', it is not until after a terrible accident forces them to flee that she comes to realise the full extent of her father's preparations.

The ship is a vast beast containing 500 hand-selected people and enough food and supplies to sustain the self-contained community for decades without them having to set foot back on the tainted land. But where for the majority of the passengers the ship is their redemption, to Lalla it is a glorified prison. Ungrateful to her father and the circumstances that dropped her without consent in this group of strangers, who look up to her for her legacy alone, she starts rebelling to her full teenage extent.

I've always been morbidly fascinated by dystopian stories and my love for the genre was amplified when I read the astonishing Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel early last year. I didn't think another title could come close to its awesomeness any time soon, but the incredibly gripping The Ship certainly evoked a similar feeling of awe while reading. Though the set-up wasn't quite as detailed – the world-building pre-Lalla's narration was eerie in its absence – its suggestive nature conjured up images more horrific than any explicit storytelling could've created.

Throughout the story, protagonist Lalla exuded a naivety and stubbornness so often found in teenagers. Despite the collapse of society all around her, her narration put her at the centre of the universe, rather than giving the reader a balanced view. Discovering dystopian London and the secrets of the ship through her self-centred eyes made the reveals slow – and more than once did I come to a realisation pages, or chapters, before Lalla did. For an impatient person such as myself, this made it a frustrating journey at times, but it also added an extra touch of realism to what was ultimately a coming-of-age story.

The strength within this novel lay within the endless possibilities of the ship and the sinister undertones to Lalla's father who planned and executed his masterplan into meticulous detail yet not once thought to discuss it with the daughter he was orchestrating it all for. And then of course there was the compelling dystopian future, which served as the bleak backdrop to Lalla's story. It's never defined when exactly the novel takes place, but the London as described doesn't seem all that different from our own, and the fact that we could be on the cusp of such encompassing disaster is a terrifying thought indeed.

You can pre-order the novel from Waterstones, Amazon.co.uk or your own preferred retailer.



Would you like to know more about the author? You can connect with her online at:

Website: http://antoniahoneywell.com

Twitter: @antonia_writes

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