Thursday, 9 August 2012

Book of the week: Slated

WARNING: spoilers!

After Divergent I promised myself that I would never read another Young Adult dystopia. Yet for some reason I got enticed by Slated, partially because I have met the author, but also there was something in the blurb that made me curious. Perhaps because I have been reading so much about the brain. I bet Teri Terry has read a lot of the same sources.

Opening the book I saw three features that normally make me want to close it again immediately: first-person narrative, present tense, italics to mark a dream. Still I usually give a book a chance of twenty pages before I throw it away in rage, and I didn't. For once, the present tense is justified. The protagonist/narrator has had her memory obliterated; she lives in the present. First-person perspective is counterbalanced by the dreams (well, in italics, but you can't have everything right. I am almost sure the editor insisted on the italics. Editors always think their readers are idiots). It creates heteroglossia. Counterpoint. Tension.

Scores of literary texts have dealt with the unreliability of memory; in fact I think most literature does it some way or other. I like Terry's take on it. It does not feel artificial, which it easily could have. The gradual and painful remembrance is piercing. I am with the character. I want to know more about her. I want to know what the chip in her brain makes her do and whether she will cope with it. I am so engaged with her that I don't care about minor inconsistencies that felt irritating on the first twenty pages. The novel takes place in 2052 (unnecessarily spelled out). The world has changed dramatically in the past forty years, but forty years from now Terry believes that it will be more or less the same. What her protagonist has gone through has been done, perhaps with less technological sophistication, for years and years. The family structure is the same, the school system is the same, and as a step in socialisation, a sixteen-year-old girl is sent off to put a letter in a mailbox. Mailbox in 2052? And a letter to whom? Well, never mind. It's all background noise. I want to know what happens to the character. I want to know how the author manages the impossible. Killing off a number of secondary characters, including the object of the protagonist's romantic interest, is a good strategy.

What I cannot help thinking about and what the author definitely did not think about is that what she describes as a dystopia was once a fact. People who read 1984 as science fiction have not lived in a totalitarian country. Millions of children during the years of Communist terror in the Soviet Union were separated from their parents and had their brains slated, with or without technical assistence, given new names and new histories so that they would never remember who they were. Kyla's identity number is around 19,000 – the fictional government has been extremely inefficient in their slating project. Reality always surpasses fiction.

The ending clearly prepares for a sequel. It seems unavoidable these days. I will not read the sequel. I am not interested in exactly what happened to Ben or whether Kyla's new teacher is her biological father. I hope Kyla does not join the terrorists to avenge Ben, because I don't believe there is any justification for terrorism, anytime, anywhere. Not even in fiction.

For me Kyla's story is finished, in the perfect fusion of past and present tense and of her split selves, and no more italics. The author has done a marvellous job portraying a maimed, incomplete mind with the sadly inadequate means available, our human language. Any sequel will merely be adventure.

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