I Have Waited, and You Have Come by Martine McDonagh
|I Have Waited, and You Have Come by Martine McDonagh
|Category: Science Fiction
|Reviewer: Ed Prior
|Summary: A disturbing and enthralling character study into the effects of isolation in a decaying world on one woman's already fragile mind.
|Date: February 2012
|Publisher: Myriad Editions
|External links: Author's website
Rachel's world is in a state of decay. Her house is falling apart, her boyfriend has left her and civilization has crumbled in the wake of plague and extreme climate change. Her only friend, Stephanie, is separated from Rachel by the now insurmountable barrier of the Atlantic Ocean, their communication dependent on an increasingly unreliable satellite connecting their phones. At Stephanie's prompting Rachel gives her number to local trader Noah, who promises to call. Instead the number falls into the hands of the mysterious and sinister Jez White, initiating a disturbing game of cat and mouse, where the line between stalker and victim becomes blurred as Rachel finally decides to take control of her life.
I Have Waited, and You Have Come takes its dystopian near-future setting and uses it to build a derelict world of bleak isolation. The dreamlike first-person narrative reinforces this with vivid descriptions of the mouldering landscape of a post-civilization Britain. There is sparse use of dialogue, adding to the sense of Rachel's disconnection from the other inhabitants of this ruined world. Although she professes to have never experienced loneliness her interest in Noah and later obsession with her apparent stalker, Jez White, belie this declaration.
This is Martine McDonagh's first novel, making the power of her simple prose all the more impressive. She has crafted a taut, creepy portrait of a woman whose already fragile mental state is pushed to breaking point by a series of threats which may be real or only imagined. Rachel is a fascinating study in the effects of isolation and paranoia and the other characters are sketched loosely but effectively, relevant only in so much as they impact on Rachel's existence. While this could be a flaw under other circumstances this story is so driven by its focus on Rachel and her crumbling existence that the relative sparseness of other characters becomes a virtue.
That said, I Have Waited, and You Have Come isn't perfect. The plot could have been sketched on the back of an envelope and holds no surprises. Likewise the dystopian landscape is beautifully described, McDonagh has a real gift for refreshing similes, but arguably somewhat lacking in imagination. Anyone familiar with the genre will find little here that is new to them in its speculative elements. McDonagh is clearly trying to present us with a grimly realistic futurescape and in doing so it is hard not to stray over familiar ground – this is yet another bleak vision of things to come of the sort with which we have been somewhat overloaded of late. This if forgivable, however, after all the decaying future setting is arguably just window dressing, merely serving to reinforce the sense of decay in the life and mentality of the narrator.
If the author makes one major mistake, it is by ending the story with a sudden switch of perspective to a previously supporting character which removes any sense of ambiguity from the narrative. Until that point I found myself wondering whether Rachel's obviously fragile, and deteriorating, mental state meant that some, if not all, of the action was taking part in her head. The bathetic ending removed all uncertainty in a way which rendered the story more mundane and far less chilling than it might have been.
Still, none of these things takes away significantly from this novel's strengths. This is an enthralling character study into how extreme situations can engender extreme behaviour and how obsessing over the bigger picture can make us blind to the things right in front of us. Although probably aimed more at casual readers than hardened genre fans, the science fiction elements are handled competently and the strength of McDonagh's descriptions go a long way towards making up for any lack of originality. Told with passion and real skill I Have Waited, and You Have Come' is a disturbing, but rewarding read that makes a virtue of brevity and a narrow focus.
If this book appeals then you might enjoy The Windup Girl by Paolo Bacigalupi
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You can read more book reviews or buy I Have Waited, and You Have Come by Martine McDonagh at Amazon.com.
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