Published By: Hodder and Stoughton
Released On: 23/03/2023
Too much imagination can be a dangerous thing
It has been five years since writing fiction was banned by the government.
Fern Dostoy is a criminal. Officially, she has retrained in a new job outside of the arts but she still scrawls in a secret notepad in an effort to capture what her life has become: her work on a banned phone line, reading bedtime stories to sleep-starved children; Hunter, the young boy who calls her and has captured her heart; and the dreaded visits from government officials.
But as Fern begins to learn more about Hunter, doubts begin to surface. What are they both hiding?
And who can be trusted?
Thanks to NetGalley and Hodder and Stoughton for the advanced copy of this title in return for an honest review.
If I had the money, I’d buy everyone a copy of this book.
This book was a whole rollercoaster of emotions. It made me so angry to begin with. But in a good way. The idea that a world could ban all fiction books is a horrifying thought. To take away our words and our stories, it doesn’t bear thinking about. How realistic it is, I don’t know, but by combining it with real topics such as the COVID-19 pandemic, Louise has written a very worrying and very convincing future.
Even though I read an early digital copy, the cover keeps staring at me (quite literally) on social media, and so I may have to buy a physical copy just to have it on my shelf.
The whole book is written in a sort of diary format, and so the only viewpoint we get is from Fern. This could have felt very one sided, but it didn’t. It means we are fully absorbed in her story without other people’s agendas muddying the water. It is also a good way of adding flashbacks without skipping time periods.
If I’m honest, I couldn’t tell you much about the supporting characters. That’s not to say they’re badly written, in fact I don’t believe there’s a badly written word in this book, but Fern is such a magical main character that all your focus is on her and her emotions and her journey. She is a magnet, she drags you in so you can hold her hand. She’s hard to pin down at first, a bit over the place, but she’s so overwhelmingly human and she’s a joy to read.
At first, there’s quite a bit of repetition, how she spends her day, her work, her love for fiction, her distress, and at first I was concerned it could be a problem, but it very quickly actually became a positive of the book. It showed the mundaneness and inhumanity of a life without stories and without art, and it adds to this idea of terror when imagining such a world.
I was so outraged for a lot of the book that I almost forgot it was fiction. It became so real that I just wanted to talk to people about it, like we were all living it.
For me, it has a mix of genres. There are elements of horror – not necessarily all out blood and guts and scares – but there’s bits sprinkled here and there that put you on edge. There’s thriller, psychological thriller, a bit of romance, espionage.
You’ll find yourself never comfortable with it. You’re never comfortable with what you’re reading. You don’t necessarily know who to trust or what you can believe, and by using a diary format, we are working things out at the same time as the characters.
I won’t tell you the ending obviously, that would be a BIG spoiler, but I will say it does throw you back on this rollercoaster. I admit I did have an inkling as to the ending, but that didn’t spoil it for me. If anything, I was even more excited that she had pulled of this fantastic feat so well.
I found myself in floods of tears in so many places. Out of sheer frustration and anger, but also at the grief and the sadness and just the unfairness of everything.
Louise says it was written in lockdown and I think that’s fairly obvious as that’s a major influence in the story. It would be interesting to see, if she’d written the book without the pandemic and without the lockdowns, how different a book it might be?
I only just found out that Louise Swanson is the alter ego of Louise Beech. I’ve not read any of her other books, but from what I can ascertain, this is a complete departure to the norm. But she will definitely be one I look out for, in either guise. Her words are like poetry.
Don’t get me wrong, it’s not a particularly happy book in the slightest. It’s hard and it’s harsh and it’s sad and heartbreaking. It’s raw and unflinching and honest. But it’s so honest and intelligent and heartwarming. It is glorious writing. Just the sheer respect and understanding of grief – in all guises – in these words is stunning.
It is a love letter to books, to words, to stories, to art, to friends, to family, to children, to our strengths, to our flaws, to the world and to ourselves.
I have no one word that fully encapsulates it fully. I could write about it forever and never scratch the surface to fully give this book the review it deserves. It is so powerful. It is a book one must read for themselves, but I can definitely say I won’t be forgetting about it for a long time.