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Sunday, 6 January 2019

Book review: Severance, Ling Ma (2018)

This is a really disappointing book but I only got most of the way through the prologue before giving up. The author has given herself license to create a new social order in the wake of the kind of apocalyptic disaster that Americans find so entertaining. For people in the rest of the world, reality is more expressive of real human values. You can feel the identity politics winding up in the prologue to this book, and I wasn’t prepared to witness the fallout from the resulting explosion.

Reading the beginning of this book was kind of like watching a slow-motion video of the double fault of a famous tennis player. You see all the effort that goes into the serve but you know that it will just hit the net and drop aimlessly to the court’s surface.
There seems to be a pattern emerging of disappointing works by young, politically-progressive female authors using a future dystopia as a canvas against which to tease out their dissatisfactions with the contemporary world.

On 1 February of last year I reviewed ‘Dyschronia’ by Australian author Jennifer Mills, a book that was only partially successful in delivering a vision imbued by ideas about gender and class. On 10 August of the same year I reviewed ‘The Mere Wife’ by American author Maria Dahvana Headley that was also inspired by ideas connected to gender but that had a plot I found to be riddled with holes. In both books, the author uses an imagined world to render a reality that she feels strongly but that is animated by narrow political concerns, and that ultimately fails to convince the reader. The lack of universal relevance for the ideas the books retail in in the broader community makes them fail. You wonder who the intended audience is for such books, and whether perhaps there are not multiple audiences out there for contemporary fiction.

You can feel the calculus that such authors are running through their heads when they’re planning their novels. Will I get enough interested readers, people who share my particular, narrow view of the world, to subscribe to the ideas I am going to put forward? Authors of such books are too confident of the indulgence of their favourite reader, and not suspicious enough of their own biases. They fail to come up with plots and characters that can be enjoyed by the everyone. They are blinkered into a single lane on the track, but they haven’t prepared well enough for the long haul. Real writers see things that are universal and go for stories that are full of ideas that everyone can share, not just a select few.

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