The Heart Goes Last – Margaret Atwood
I do like Atwood novels. Clearly I had to read this one as soon as possible – I think I even pre-ordered it.
Here’s the blurb …
Living in their car, surviving on tips, Charmaine and Stan are in a desperate state. So, when they see an advertisement for Consilience, a ‘social experiment’ offering stable jobs and a home of their own, they sign up immediately. All they have to do in return for suburban paradise is give up their freedom every second month – swapping their home for a prison cell. At first, all is well. But then, unknown to each other, Stan and Charmaine develop passionate obsessions with their ‘Alternates,’ the couple that occupy their house when they are in prison. Soon the pressures of conformity, mistrust, guilt and sexual desire begin to take over.
This novel had an intriguing premise – people live normal lives for a month and then are imprisoned for a month. They have ‘alternates’ with whom they share a house – when you are in prison your alternate is in the house and vice-versa. In this way a community only needs half as many houses and jobs. The community is extremely isolated – once you are in you can’t leave, there is no internet access and the only media available is produced by Consilience. As you no doubt imagine, sinister things are afoot. What has happened to the original (and true criminals)? What exactly does Charmaine do in her prison time (I will give you a clue the title has something to do with her job)? There are affairs, sex dolls, headless chickens and mind control through brain surgery. Atwood paints a dreary picture of the future and what big business will do to us all – and then we hear about the antics of VW and realise big business probably is amoral.
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Defending Jacob – William Landay
This one was selected for me by my book club – it came right after Apple Tree Yard, so I was a bit concerned I might be ‘crimed’ out, but not so I found it a compelling page turner.
Here’s the blurb …
Andy Barber has been an assistant district attorney in his suburban Massachusetts county for more than twenty years. He is respected in his community, tenacious in the courtroom, and happy at home with his wife, Laurie, and son, Jacob. But when a shocking crime shatters their New England town, Andy is blindsided by what happens next: His fourteen-year-old son is charged with the murder of a fellow student.
Every parental instinct Andy has rallies to protect his boy. Jacob insists that he is innocent, and Andy believes him. Andy must. He’s his father. But as damning facts and shocking revelations surface, as a marriage threatens to crumble and the trial intensifies, as the crisis reveals how little a father knows about his son, Andy will face a trial of his own–between loyalty and justice, between truth and allegation, between a past he’s tried to bury and a future he cannot conceive.
This novel reminded me of We need to talk about Kevin – the mother was suspicious and the father oblivious (although maybe he was just in denial). The story is from Andy’s point of view and he is not a reliable narrator – information is revealed at the trial which show Andy’s actions to be more calculating than he is prepared to admit – disposing of the knife he finds in Jacob’s room, suggesting Jacob should rinse his bathers, etc. There is also a debate about nature versus nurture – is there a murder gene? And what responsibility to society and the community does the family of violent people have? Information is revealed to us slowly through the initial investigation, visits to the Pyschiatrist, and the trials (yes there is more than one trial). I was gripped – how could Andy not know? But what happens at the end was completely unexpected.
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