Thursday, December 21, 2017

On Such a Full Sea - Lee, Chang-rae

This is one of those novels that you have to piece together the type of world you're in as you read, rather than have things laid out. It takes place in a form of America, one in which the land is exhausted and its original inhabitants are hardly to be seen. At some stage, society has split into three levels - Charters, where life is much as it is in posh areas in early 21st century America; grow facilities (gated communities of workers producing foodstuffs and other items); and Counties - everywhere else, where it is every man or woman for themselves. Almost everyone is sick, with something called C: those in grow facilities eventually succumb to it; those in Charters are treated with various chemicals that prove fatal and those in the Counties have far more than C to worry about. 
B-More is a grow facility in what was known as Baltimore: it is not clear when or why, but it has been deserted by its original inhabitants and is occupied almost exclusively by New Chinese (what happened in China is barely mentioned, I think because it is so many generations ago that few actually know). There is a shadowy thing called the Directorate which makes decisions for this community but no suggestion of any central government. The main product created here appears to be fish, grown in sterilised tanks - but history has shown that there are still risks to be faced, that even in these "ideal" conditions, the entire stock has had to be destroyed in the past, making this an ever-present threat.

Reg is a young man of B-More, who may or may not be entirely free of C. When he seems to have left B-More for the Counties, Fan follows him. She is 16, a tank diver, pregnant to Reg (although no-one knows) and has a special quality - it is not so much that she is strong-willed or full of volition (although she is more of each than is typical) but that she is the kind of person that people want to see succeed, that people just help without hesitation or self-interest. This means that out in the Counties, where everyone is at risk and young women particularly so, she has a charmed existence. She is soon taken in by Quig, a former vet in a Charter town who fell from grace when people stopped keeping pets because of the health risks they pose. He offers a primitive form of medical practice, where people are treated according to what they have to give.

To help his community, they have to go to a Charter town some distance away: Fan gets to hear about a gruesome event in Quig's past and they have one of their own, when they are taken in by a group of vegetarians who just happen to have dogs which need feeding. Obviously they escape and get to the Charter Town - this is about half way through the novel, and the rest of what happens, happens there. Quig gets what he wants, leaves Fan behind - and it is here that the one bad thing that happens to her, happens, or maybe it is stopped before it happens. Anyway, things get a bit weird at this point as the lady of the house has a collection of living dolls, women she has somehow accumulated who live entirely separated from the world. They are both captive and lacking any will to leave. 

Things get even stranger, in that while Fan might not find Reg, she finds a brother, one who might have found a cure for C. He faces a moral choice: he has spent up large, exceedingly so, in anticipation of selling his cure but part of the deal is that he has to hand Fan over - she's carrying Reg's child, after all.

Probably the strangest thing for me was the narration of this tale: the narrators are some unidentified people of B-More who never leave town or hear from Fan again, yet they purport to not only provide her history but that of the people she meets, such as Quig. There were other strange elements to the story - there seemed to be no means of communication, people don't read, the fact that things seemed quite organised (at least between the Charter towns and those supplying them) without any apparent organisation and Fan's own existence. Of course, it is possible that nothing is known about her, and this story is really about appeasing the people of B-More. 


Post a Comment

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]

<< Home