Friday, 18 March 2016

The Ship by Antonia Honeywell

Reviewer: Catriona Troth

What We Thought:

The Ship is set in the not too distant future, when financial catastrophe has collided with destructive climate change to bring about the downfall of our world.

At the beginning of the great crash, Lalla’s father invented the Dove, a shell within the Worldwide Web, with the intention of bringing “fairness, equality, hope into a desperate situation.” It didn’t work. Instead, the Dove has become a tool of oppression in the hands of a brutal dictatorship.

Nevertheless, Michael Paul is perhaps the last rich man in the world. He has constructed a plan to take his daughter away from the violent, famished world they inhabit and give her everything he believes she needs to live a good life. But is this the right way to secure her future?

Lalla’s mother wants to live in the world and rescue as many survivors as she can. Her father wants to create a ideal world and choose the people to live in it. And as for Lalla, “If they were the knives cutting through the difficulties of the world they were living in, I was the whetstone upon which they sharpened themselves.”

When they finally set sail from London on the huge ship Michael has built and provisioned, the five hundred people he has selected to sail with them are overwhelmed with gratitude.

“But my inclusion was automatic. No one had made sure I was starving before they set a feast before me.”

Lalla is an adolescent, shielded to a great extent from the brutalities that the chosen passengers on the manifest have experienced at first hand. And she is not content to have her life circumscribed by the ship and mapped out by the father’s grand plan. Is she spoilt, or could her vision be wider than her father's?

Perhaps appropriately for a book set in a time where the modern world has crumbled away, there is something reminiscent here of Victorian novels. It is written in the slightly detached tone of a ship’s log, and the chapter headings, with their brief descriptions of the incidents to come [*We remember our missing * the stores *an apple *], echo Victorian imitations of the published journals of explorers. Lalla, like a Victorian heroine, seems by contemporary standards, at once mentally sophisticated and emotionally immature. There may be a clue, too, in the choice of her name – Lalage – borrowed from John Fowles’s homage to the Victorian novel, The French Lieutenant’s Woman.

The Ship’s warning about how close to disaster our civilisation is sailing is timely; its vision of the world after the fall, plausible. At its heart lies the moral dilemma with which Lalla’s parents wrestled – as human beings pushed to the edge, who do we choose to save, and how?

You’ll Enjoy This If You Loved: Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood, The French Lieutenant’s Woman by John Fowles,

Avoid if You Dislike: Post-apocalyptic stories, adolescent narrators

Perfect Accompaniment: A crisp, green apple, water cooled in a stone jug, and a garden.

Genre: Literary Fiction, Post-Apocalyptic fiction

Available from Amazon

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