The Heritage by Will Ashon
|The Heritage by Will Ashon|
|Reviewer: Jill Murphy|
|Buy? Yes||Borrow? Yes|
|Pages: 352||Date: March 2008|
|Publisher: Faber and Faber|
Tilly is languishing at Yarleigh Falls Young Offenders Unit when she meets Sadie. A nice, well brought up middle class girl, Tilly is like a fish out of water - she's the victim of a practical joke by her brother which went horribly, horribly wrong. Tilly released an internet virus he had written, and that's how she ended up at Yarleigh Falls. Her friendship with Sadie - predicated on her non-existent hacking skills - is the only connection she makes there, so when she's released, Tilly doesn't go home. She goes to Sadie's bedsit.
The two girls lapse into a life of drinking and smoking, paid for by the proceeds of shoplifting, once they've fenced the ill-gotten goods to their landlady Lynda. Lynda is an outsourcing success story. As government departments are successively privatised, Lynda picks up just about everything on offer. She is not only Tilly's landlady; she's her probation officer and her social worker too. When Lynda suddenly adds a new string to her outsourcing bow and adds DNA retrieval agent to her repertoire, the girls think nothing of it - but Tilly can't resist making mischief by swapping the swabs.
And it seems that Tilly's DNA is of interest to all sorts of people - shady government operatives, malicious corporate agents, even Lynda, who can sniff out a profit opportunity at several hundred paces. But of course, it isn't Tilly's DNA at all. Thanks to the prank, it's Sadie's DNA that is revealing all sorts of secrets...
Oh goodness me. What a book. It's certainly one of the best teen books I've read so far this year. Part conspiracy chase, part study of troubled adolescence, part blackest-of-black satire, it's a very sophisticated read. At first, I thought I was in a kind of near-future power game novel similar to Ken MacLeod's splendiferous The Execution Channel. But I wasn't. There aren't really any shady men in grey suits in this novel - or rather, there are, but they are more David Brent than evil genius. What I got was a dissection of modern corporate capitalism quite as vicious as anything Jim Ballard has ever put out.
Do you ever watch Question Time and come away with the feeling that there's more ability in a PTA committee that only managed to raise a paltry 39p on Children In Need day than there is in the Cabinet and Shadow Cabinet combined? They're a bunch of hopeless incompetents, aren't they? Well, here they are in all their outsourced glory, summarised by Lynda, the Fagin figure in the novel. Here's what you get, Ashon is saying, if you let these fools put it all out for tender. Instead of a political conspiracy thriller, this book is a black comedy of privatisation. There are some wonderful scenes - including an interlude at a sperm collection facility that I won't ruin for you here. I had to put down the book, I was laughing so hard.
But it's not hilarity all the way. It's a sad story really. Middle class but unloved Tilly cleaves to bottom of the heap Sadie as if she is some kind of saviour. Sadie clings back but is crushed by the various genetic revelations. There's a heartrending tenderness to their relationship with its strong homoerotic undertones that brought a tear to my eye. And saddest of all is that the world is going to hell in a handcart not because there is a shady Bond-style villain out there masterminding it all, nor because the elite are all lizards in disguise, but because people are petty, greedy, small-minded and incompetent.
If I were a teenager reading this book, I'd be inspired though. Who wants to make the mistakes their parents made? And if I were a teenager reading this book, I'd not be wasting my time writing a review about it; I'd be reading it again. And again. And again.
My thanks to the nice people at Faber for sending the book.
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You can read more book reviews or buy The Heritage by Will Ashon at Amazon.com.
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