Favourite Quote: “I love you. Remember. They cannot take it.”
I find dystopia terrifying, yet it’s my favourite genre and I can’t get enough of it. For those of you who are uninformed, let me do my best to enlighten you. Dystopian novels, on a very basic level, are about societies that don’t work. Usually it is one group oppressing the other, while trying, and mostly succeeding, to make the victims of this oppression believe that they live in a utopian, or ideal, society. One of the most famous dystopian novels is Nineteen Eighty-Four by George Orwell in which a political party, simply known as The Party, manipulate and control humanity using pervasive government surveillance and political mind control. In these novels there is usually a protagonist or group of protagonists who have broken free of the oppressors and are fighting the system.
This particular book is the first in a trilogy, much to my delight. It tells the story of a society in which love is considered a deadly disease and, on their 18th birthday, each inhabitant goes through special treatment in order to be cured. This special treatment is not something inhabitants have a choice in; love is illegal and, in the worst case scenario, punishable by death. Hang on; are they planning on going extinct? Of course not and here’s the creepiest bit: people about to undergo the cure are ‘Evaluated’ so they can be matched with their ‘perfect partner’, who they have to marry and have children with.
As I said, most dystopian novels have a protagonist and this one is no exception; she’s called Lena and, as you might expect, mere months before she’s due to be cured, she meets a boy (Alex) and falls in love with him. A bit too predictable and cheesy maybe? That’s what I thought but, in my opinion, Lena’s relationship with Alex is very much secondary to Lena’s inward battle with herself and everything she has grown up being led to believe, even terrible things about her own mother. This story is one of many twists and turns and is neither a straight-forward romance, nor a formulaic dystopia; it is a delicious mix of the two.
The whole idea is extremely clever and imaginative when you think about the fact that love could quite logically be a disease; there are actual symptoms that can be attributed to it, such as changes in appetite, difficulty concentrating, difficulty breathing, periods of euphoria, and so on. As well being blessed with a brilliant imagination, Oliver’s way with words is so impressive. She writes like a poet and I first noticed this in her fantastic debut, Before I Fall.
I’m not in the business of spoiling books that I’m reviewing so all I can say about the ending is that it is so, so unexpected. It comes from nowhere, which is where all good endings should come from. The brilliance of it still pops into my head occasionally and I finished this book months ago. The sequel, Pandemonium, which is due for release in February 2011, cannot come out fast enough.
This book made me grateful, not only for my loved ones, but for the ability to love them. In this story, the people who have been cured are disconnected from everyone; they can’t even love their own children. Can you imagine a world without, not just romantic love, but any love at all? Oliver has, and it isn’t pretty. Although a ‘cure’ for love obviously does not exist in our world, it is heart-breaking to think that there are people out there who have been through such horrors that they have lost the ability to love. I think theirs are the saddest stories of all.