Thursday, July 5, 2012

July meeting

Before I Go to Sleep is a first novel by an NHS audiologist who wrote it in between shifts at London's St Thomas's Hospital, it's exceptionally accomplished.
After surviving what she believes was a car crash, Chrissie developed a form of amnesia which has left her able to store memories for only 24 hours. Every morning when she wakes she has forgotten the circumstances of her life and must relearn them from scratch: who her husband Ben is, where they live, whether or not they have children.
The novel takes the form of a journal she is encouraged to keep by a Dr Nash, who has, without Ben's knowledge, taken an interest in her case. It becomes a lifeline to her past; though of course she has to be reminded every day that she is writing it, or she would never know it existed.
The journal helps Chrissie discover things she has forgotten – for example that she once published a novel. Ben has concealed this and other key facts from her. Why? Is he a saintly carer, feeding her a sanitised version of her life that will not upset her? Or is he manipulating her perception of a world which, without memory to help her decode it, seems to hide innumerable vast conspiracies?
The structure is so dazzling it almost distracts you from the quality of the writing. No question, this is a very literary thriller.

The government contains only the sneering rich and serves only the sneering rich. They loathe the poor and have ensured they cannot escape poverty and receive only the minimum of education and state support. The health service has been destroyed and those who cannot afford private care are crammed into ancient filthy hospitals where they go simply to die. Any protests are put down with brutal force. No, I'm not talking about the next few years of Cameron and Clegg's reign of terror. I'm not even talking about the future as envisaged by the Tea Party. I'm talking about Ursula K Le Guin's 1975 Hugo award winner, The Dispossessed, and her vivid descriptions of the dystopian world of Urras.
The inequality on Urras has naturally provoked a great deal of anger. 150-odd years before the story opens there was a huge revolution – but instead of taking the more usual step of hanging their oppressors from lampposts, a large number of the revolutionaries fled to set up their own ideal society. Close to Urras (I know! It's the funniest planet name since Uranus) there's an almost inhabitable desert world called Annares where the idealists set up an anarchistic society based on principles of shared wealth, shared responsibility and shared bedrooms. Superficially, the society works. Incredibly, the people on Annares don't even mind sleeping in dorms. But at the time the book opens, things have calcified. The revolution is no longer moving forward. New ideas are frowned on and feared, while greedy, self-interested people (derided as "propertarians" in the language the inhabitants have invented for themselves) have started to hog power. Discontent is brewing.