I always wonder whether writers artfully name their characters before the novel begins, or whether it just happens or indeed, whether during or after the writing is finished the character’s name changes to fit the story they have fallen into.
In The Testament of Jessie Lamb (see where I am going?) Jane Rogers has created a dystopian hinterland where falling pregnant is a sentence of death, because of a latent brain condition called MDS or Maternal Death Syndrome. Like HIV Aids, it can lie passively in your system until something triggers it and suddenly it is a death sentence. There is in this novel, no cure for MDS, so if you fall pregnant, your brain will turn into emmental cheese and you will die, your baby will carry the syndrome…so young woman are all being held infertile with an implant.
So world populations are getting older, no new babies except those that survive these unfortunate pregnancies, but they are also infected so cannot be used as breeding stock. Conspiracy theories abound. Apocalypse looms.
Jessie’s father works in a clinic where research is being carried out to find a cure. In a mad scientist moment, he describes a way of creating a solution, one so appalling and bizarre that only a scientist could have thought of it – use pre-MDS gametes, fertilised already obviously, implanted into young, preferably very young, women who would be put into an induced coma – so that they do not suffer from the ravages of MDS, and then once delivered of an MDS-free baby – allowed to die. Sleeping Beauties.
To be completely honest, I hate this sort of novel. Jane Rogers has written some really brilliant books, but this is not one of them. If you want to get an idea of how well she writes, read The Ice is Singing or Mr Wroe’s Virgins. The only thing to be said for having this on the Longlist is that it comes from a new and practically unknown publisher, whether this is the best book to become ‘known’ for remains to be seen.