Tuesday, 3 July 2012

The Testament of Jessie Lamb

An interesting book with a frankly terrifying concept, The Testament of Jessie Lamb was a good read. The setting is a slightly different spin on a not entirely unique concept. Someone (it is never explained who or why) has released a virus, which quickly spreads to the world's entire population. Called MDS, it is dormant in the system unless you become pregnant, at which point it develops like CJD and you die. The world is therefore in crisis, as there can be no new babies. The medical establishment discovers that if they put the pregnant women into a medically induced coma the baby can survive, although the mother dies. This is taken to another level when they discover if they vaccinate embryos frozen prior to the virus and implant them in teenage girls, they can produce MDS-free babies, although, again, the mother dies.
Jessie Lamb is the 16 year old narrator of the story. She narrates and responds much as you feel a teenager might, although I didn't feel that she had much of a personality. The world around her goes a bit crazy, with fundamentalist groups springing up everywhere, and the story follows how she responds to that.
The fundamentalist groups (a feminist group, animal activists, a religious group), in addition to random gangs of men who have suddenly turned against women as a result of the virus, are unrealistic caricatures, spouting ridiculous slogans (the feminist group claims it's all a plot by men to take power away from women, for example). The closest you get to a moderate view of what is happening is Jessie's father, who works for a fertility clinic. Initially, I thought that the books would have been improved by providing a more reasoned viewpoint, but then I began to think that maybe the craziness of it is deliberate, and it reflects Jessie's perception of events more than what is actually happening, which influences her subsequent reaction.
The book makes some interesting points about how people end up in a place where they feel the only option is to do something extreme. The character of one of Jessie's schoolmates, is a scary case in point. Molested by her step-dad, all but abandoned by her drug-using mother and beaten by her boyfriend she feels she has nothing left and, influenced by the media and events around her, volunteers to be used as a human incubator, to die. That could be the story of a suicide bomber.
I can't give the book top marks as the characters are a little flat, and it is unlikely to be something I would read again and again. The central ideas, which are the main thrust of the book, will stick with me though, I think.
I would recommend this to older teens and adults. It is definitely written in a teenage style, but I think that an adult would probably get more from it as they might be better placed to read between the lines and see how Jessie is manipulated and influenced throughout the book.

Book: The Testament of Jessie Lamb
Author: Jane Rogers
Publisher: Canongate Books
Score: 7/10

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