Nina X by Ewan Morrison
For her entire twenty-eight years, she’s been the subject of an experiment to raise a new kind of human, the embodiment of Mao’s teaching that not even one’s thoughts are one’s own. But something must have gone awry because, when the novel opens, Nina has left the commune and is trying to adapt to a totally topsy-turvy world. Simultaneously, the overstretched London health and social care system is trying to adapt to Nina, and to figure out what kind of help she needs.
Narrated through Nina’s notebooks, dipping back and forth between the present and the early years of the current millennium, the voice is beguiling from the first page. We see directly the impact of the erasure as words, sentences and whole paragraphs appear in paler font. Although her plight is pitiful, there’s humour in her naivety, as there is in the muddling through of service providers who are well-meaning but unprepared for a case like hers. But Ewan Morrison doesn’t play the situation for laughs; there’s a deep well of compassion, and intelligence, at the heart of the story.
The author also explored the struggle for selfhood in a casualty of communal living in his previous novel, Close Your Eyes, but Nina’s segregation from society is perhaps more extreme. But how damaged is she by her physically and emotionally abusive upbringing? How much recovery can we expect?
Although I enjoyed the interplay of optimism and pessimism between the different services, each picking up on only part of the picture, and the exposure of the limitations of statutory support for any vulnerable adult, I was a little sceptical about the reliance on psychological assessment tools designed for a very different population. But the real-life versions of these characters would have had to work with what was available under increasing pressure of time. I was satisfied by the ambiguity of the ending, with hope, but not too rosy, and a breakthrough via self-compassion and discovering elixir in truth.
Ewan Morrison’s seventh novel is published by Fleet who provided my review copy. If you’re interested in issues of idealism and identity or if you’re curious about cults and / or the care of vulnerable adults, this novel is well worth your time.
Beautiful Revolutionary by Laura Elizabeth Woollett
Despite her professed atheism, she’s soon attending regular services, dragging Lenny along. But Jim Jones’ church is more about sham healing than religion, and building a community untainted by capitalism and the racial segregation that blights the rest of the US. Evelyn quickly finds favour with the Reverend; Lenny does not. And because Jim Jones controls everything, they’re soon divorced and Lenny’s married to someone else. His former wife has a special place at the minister’s side, partly thanks to his practice of one-to-one counselling which today we’d label grooming and rape.
I found myself sucked into this novel the way members were sucked into the community, pulled further into the story with every page. But, while I could appreciate how difficult it was for participants to leave the community – especially after a staged attack on the leader legitimises the establishment of an armed security squad – I wasn’t convinced by Jim Jones’ appeal. And the large cast of characters did have me wondering, despite the list at the beginning of the book, who was who. Nevertheless, thanks to Scribe who provided my review copy, I found it an engaging read, especially when they get to Guyana and both Lenny’s and Jim’s craziness is out of control.
It began with a single dreamer, but many hands were needed to make it real. Our backs didn’t ache so much when we toiled together. Our stomachs didn’t grumble. The sun didn’t scorch. Blisters didn’t sting. And if ever our drive should desert us, Father would grant us his counsel; a late-night pep-talk to renew our commitment to the Cause.
When Father dreamt my husband was a Judas, many hands were needed to implement the punishment he deserved. It saddened me, but the road to Righteousness is strewn with thorns. Mindful of my duty, I threw the first rock.