Zed by Joanna Kavenna
But the system hasn’t factored in uncertainty; lacking a suitable word for a number of unpredicted and unpredictable happenings, the executives of Beetle, have termed it Zed. As their personal lives unravel, the executives grapple to bring Zed under control; meanwhile, the forces of resistance are planning to hack the system and expose the corruption at the heart of a tech empire on which most people have come to depend.
Joanna Kavenna’s sixth book is both comic and terrifying: it reads like a Beetle prediction itself. I began reading it last Sunday afternoon when I was already feeling guilty about having ordered some goods from Amazon – shameful enough in itself – that were due to be delivered at a time when most people’s working day would be done. Over the next couple of days, in the run-up to the UK’s mid-December general election, right-wing political bias in the BBC, one of our beloved British institutions, is becoming impossible to deny. It’s turning into Fox News! Beetle controlled the press, the law, finance, jobs. Although we don’t yet have robotic personal assistants to nudge us into desired behaviours, that day can’t be far away.
Thanks to publishers Faber for my review copy. For another novel about the blurred boundary between the real and the virtual, see Connect by Julian Gough.
The Divers’ Game by Jesse Ball
The reader visits this dystopian landscape from four different vantage points. In the first, two adolescent girls from the elite accompany their teacher to the zoo, where only a single hare has survived. In the second, which I found the most compelling, a small girl is prepared for the quad festival where she will be queen for the day, unaware that, as the violence escalates, the mob is likely to tear her apart. The third tracks the hierarchy of bullying within the quad society: a boy is viciously threatened and beaten by the father of his younger friend whom he has bullied in turn. The final section is the extended suicide note of a woman who can no longer live with herself after releasing the killing gas on a quad going about his business.
Jesse Ball has a rare talent for finding a quirky idea and moulding it into a story, holding up a distorting mirror to our worst selves. I’ve read and relished two of his previous novels: A Cure for Suicide and How to Set Fire. For me, The Divers’ Game doesn’t work quite as well.
I found it too fragmented, waiting in vain for one of the threads to be picked up again. Actually, the final fragment does connect with the first but I didn’t notice until I looked at another review! It seems preachy in places, as if the author thought I didn’t know I’m complicit in a system that exploits and punishes people based on accidents of birth. In a novel about our lack of empathy, switching between character viewpoints sadly reduced mine.
It’s an easy read, however, and better than many novels; I just think the author can do better. I have another of his books on my TBR shelf, both courtesy of publishers Granta, so let’s see what I make of that.
There’s an equally violent attitude to refugees in the cli-fi thriller The Wall. I’m also exploring a society devoid of empathy in my current WIP, Snowflake, about a teenager with a noise phobia.