The Ship by Antonia Honeywell

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The Ship by Antonia Honeywell

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Category: Dystopian Fiction
Rating: 4/5
Reviewer: Susmita Chatto
Reviewed by Susmita Chatto
Summary: A dystopian novel examining the meaning of freedom and humanity.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 320 Date: February 2015
Publisher: W&N
External links: Author's website
ISBN: 978-0297871491

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Sixteen year old Lalla has spent her life in London – mostly inside her family home. Because this is not the London of today, or any other day. When Lalla was seven, the apocalypse arrived; banks crashed, flood defences failed, power failed – and the world could only focus on survival. Now the Nazareth Act is in force and without your identity card, you don’t exist – literally, as you will be shot if you don't produce it.

Lalla has spent her teenage years hearing talk of “the ship”, a place of escape from the treadmill of their limited lives. But when she and her family finally decide to step on board, nothing is as she expected. Her only ties are to her mother and father, who seem suddenly different, and she has no idea where they are going. Meeting new people and being forced to question everything she knows is not the escape Lalla was hoping for.

Antonia Honeywell’s debut work is a dystopian novel, but it is not hard to imagine it as reality. This is partly because Honeywell has highlighted some of the worst problems in the contemporary western world, but mostly the sense of reality should be credited to Honeywell’s visceral descriptions and smoothly flowing prose. If you love London, take a deep breath before reading this; the destruction of London and Londoners is brought to life in a way that made me wince.

For all the depth, the writing style remains slick and clean; there are no wasted words and the sense of something sinister hanging in the air never fades. This is all the more challenging in a book which contains so many themes – state control over people and resources, human nature and the acquisition of power and how relationships work in extraordinary circumstances. This book addresses all those issues as well as looking at all the human activities that continue unabated when survival has been assured, from reading to the care given to preparation of food.

In many ways, Lalla is a highly relatable character; her education, as far as it went, included things many readers will be familiar with. But in other ways, I found her frustratingly naïve and would have liked more of a window into other characters; the novel is written from her perspective so I do feel we missed out, in particular with Tom and Emily.

Nonetheless, I grew attached to Lalla and the juxtaposition of such a trusting person in a strange and unreliable situation was fascinating. Her humanity in a world which is rapidly losing any sense of the meaning of the word was also very touching.

I suspect this novel will attract a lot of attention for how scarily close such a reality might become, and it is a big achievement to have created a dystopia like that rather than one which requires the suspension of disbelief entirely. But it is also beautifully written and the heroine in particular is so well-fleshed out, anyone seeking a character driven novel will also enjoy this, as well as those attracted to the genre overall.

If this book appeals then you might like to try Last Man Standing by Davide Longo and Silvester Mazzarella.

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