On a small island, three daughters come to terms with the death of their father, known as The King, and the future where none of them – including their mother – can go to the mainland for supplies in case they become infected.
In this dystopian future, disease is everywhere and men are the carriers. It is all the three girls – Lia, Grace and Sky – know and it means when two men and a boy wash up on the beach by their home they are full of fear, but also – for one of them – wonder.
To say the three are unhappy doesn’t really describe their situation. They have known nothing else. But they are unsatisfied. Their life is a series of rituals to keep the sickness at bay and, as an outsider, it is strange to read and harder still to understand because Mackintosh doesn’t tell you what went before, how Lia, Grace and Sky ended up living in this remote place, and what they really remember of their life before.
What you do see is a mother and farther who are either mad or evil or maybe a bit of both, making the book an uncomfortable read at times. In fact, quite a lot of it the story made me uncomfortable, the way men are portrayed, for example, though I think this is very much in line with the genre, because they are so two-dimensional, but – more than that – the way the women treat each other in ways that borders on cruel. There is no idea of female solidarity, no idea of making a better world, not until the very end.
Because of this, I am left in two minds about the book. I liked a lot about it – the way Mackintosh writes is otherworldly and perfectly suited to this other world I found myself in. The picture she paints at the beginning of the book is stark and startling and I liked that. I also liked that, as the story unfolds, so much is not how it seems.
What I didn’t like is that, in so many ways, the story didn’t go anywhere. I wanted a ‘moment’, something that would leave me shocked, or stunned, or left with deep thoughts that rattled round my head for weeks, the effect I get when I read a book by Margaret Atwood say. And I didn’t get that. It’s probably unfair to compare the two authors and I’m trying not to but this book had shades of the Handmaid’s Tale and I couldn’t help myself. Which leaves me liking, but not loving the book.
Have you read it – what did you think?
About the book…
Imagine a world very close to our own: where women are not safe in their bodies, where desperate measures are required to raise a daughter. This is the story of Grace, Lia, and Sky kept apart from the world for their own good and taught the terrible things that every woman must learn about love. And it is the story of the men who come to find them – three strangers washed up by the sea, their gazes hungry and insistent, trailing desire and destruction in their wake.
Publisher: Hamish Hamilton
Publication date: 31st May, 2018
Number of pages: 240
Genre: Dystopian, general fiction
Rating: 4 out of 5