Tuesday, May 15, 2012

REVIEW: The Testament of Jessie Lamb, by Jane Rogers

The Testament of Jessie Lamb, by Jane Rogers. Published 2012 by HarperPerennial. ISBN 9780062130808.

This year's winner of the prestigious Arthur C. Clarke Award and originally published by the small Scottish publisher Sandstone Press, The Testament of Jessie Lamb is a book that will definitely get you thinking, and talking.

Veteran writer Jane Rogers tells the story of a 16 year old British girl named Jessie, who as the book opens is being held captive by her father. The story takes place in the near future after the spread of a deadly disease called Maternal Death Syndrome or MDS, which kills every infected pregnant woman. And everyone on Earth is infected. Panic spreads; scientists race to find a solution to the extinction of man while factions protest and regular people try to figure out what to do next. Jessie's father is a scientist at work on one of the most controversial projects, the Sleeping Beauties. Sleeping Beauties are young women- girls, really- who are impregnated with embryos then left in a coma until they deliver, and die.

When the book opens Jessie is tied up in a neighbor's house. She writes the book to keep herself occupied during her captivity, as a kind of reminiscence about the onset of MDS, the ensuing panics and reactions of her friends and family, and worldwide responses and consequences. Rogers lets Jessie give us a pretty good idea of the kind of chaos and uncertainty spreading through her society and her circles. Her aunt Mandy, childless and single, latches onto a cult for what she believes is her last chance at happiness. Her parents quarrel; her friend is raped and joins a feminist group. Jessie finds herself confronted with all kinds of conflicting ideas and input, and, eventually, comes to the decision that will land her in her cell and change her life forever.

I have to say I was very impressed by the novel. It's a genuinely creepy and disturbing dystopia, with a heroine who exhibits all the symptoms of teenage narcissism and still decides to take an active role in what's going on. She has no idea how her actions are impacting those around her; right up to the end she's blind to the effect she's having, totally cocooned in her own solipsistic righteousness. But the reader can see, and it's chilling, this single-mindedness of hers. I was totally engrossed and engaged from beginning to end. A paperback original, I think Testament would be a fantastic and very challenging book club selection, and a great read for lovers of dystopias and literary science fiction.

Rating: BUY

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FTC Disclosure: I did not receive this book for review.