It is my turn on the blog tour for this thought-provoking book, which has possibly the most clinically arresting cover I have seen. Thank you for Anne Cater for my place on the tour, and to Orenda Books for providing a free electronic copy.
Published: 9th July 2020
Trigger warnings: Drugs, sexual references, pandemic storyline
Decades of spiralling drug resistance have unleashed a global antibiotic crisis. Ordinary infections are untreatable: a scratch from a pet can kill. A sacrifice is required to keep the majority safe: no one over seventy is allowed new antibiotics. The elderly are sent to hospitals nicknamed ‘The Waiting Rooms.’ Hospitals where no one ever gets well.
Twenty years after the crisis takes hold, Kate begins a search for her birth mother, armed only with her name and her age. As Kate unearths disturbing facts about her mother’s past, she puts her family in danger and risks losing everything.
Because Kate is not the only secret that her birth mother is hiding. Someone else is looking for her, too.
This is a book that uses an innovative concept not only to create a dark and detailed dystopian world, but also weave together a deftly complex mystery that keep you interested right up until the very last page. Intelligently written throughout and containing an array of well developed characters, it employs multiple perspectives and timelines to very good effect.
The author achieves an excellent balance between the the two main aspects of the book, which are inextricably connected. The dystopia acts as an ever-present and sinister backdrop to events, as well as the crux of the mystery that unravels slowly but surely along the way. A hint of family drama is also included for good measure, and it is only when you reach the end that you can truly appreciate the strength of the storytelling.
Set in the not-too-distant future, this book takes place in a world that has been decimated by a tuberculosis pandemic, caused by rapidly increasing bacterial resistance to drugs. This led to a UK government decision to no longer allow people aged over 70 to be treated with new antibiotics, and instead send them to purpose-built hospitals where they can never get better.
Kate is a nurse, a job that occasionally sees her having to help elderly people end their lives, incurring the wrath of angry protesters who are opposed to the government’s ruling. Following the death of her adoptive mother, she sets out to find her birth mother, who left very few details and is very difficult to trace.
Meanwhile, Lily is approaching her 70th birthday and staying in a care home where residents are strictly quarantined. She is carrying a secret, and becomes convinced that someone is pursuing her after a series of curious incidents occur.
The final storyline takes place in South Africa in the years leading up to the antibiotic crisis. Mary is a PhD student who is investigating the medicinal properties of plants, and while conducting her research she meets the enigmatic Dr Piet Bekker. The two share an interest in botany and soon develop a close connection.
It was impossible to read this book without drawing comparisons to the current global situation, and that made some of the ideas seem frightfully plausible. The concept is highly original, and very thoughtfully executed with the help of a series of creative ideas and news articles, which are often used at the beginning of a chapter.
It is also evident that an incredible amount of research went in to writing this book. The chapters that take place in South Africa have a unique vibe to them, and the discussions surrounding antimicrobial resistance are quite compelling, which makes Piet a fairly memorable character. I also liked how I as the reader was made to doubt his true motives.
All three of the narratives are written in the first person, and each of the main characters are given a terrific amount of development. Lily was often something of a mystery, and there were moments where you felt she could be an unreliable narrator, but as the plot gradually thickens her chapters become increasingly tense.
I really liked reading about Kate, and in particular the relationship she has with her daughter Sasha, who provides a truly authentic voice on what it must be like to grow up in such a world. The only real problem I had with Kate’s storyline is that the mystery of finding her mother became the main focus to the extent that some of the themes were not explored as thoroughly as I was hoping for.
For me, the mystery was resolved very well. I could see one of the main twists coming at a relatively early stage, but there was one later on in the book that was much more difficult to guess. If you look back, a lot of subtle clues were placed along the way, but the author does such an effective job of disguising them to make them appear insignificant.
The settings were all immersive, and I found Lily’s care home particularly unsettling. She was cared for, but the place was made to feel very much like a prison and the writing made that feel tangible. I also loved the South African setting, it added an extra layer of atmosphere to the story and the final chapter emphasises that fact more than ever.
For a debut novel, it has to be said that the writing is absolutely superb. It is eloquent, vivid, and contains such a degree of depth. The pace of the story never falters, neither does its complexity. However, it was also the kind of book where I struggled to read a large amount in one sitting, possibly due to the hefty subject matter.
Overall, this was a richly detailed and thoughtful book with an excellent range of narratives and a group of very well rounded characters. I would have liked a few more aspects of the world itself to have been examined slightly more, but otherwise as both a dystopia and a mystery, it ticks many of the right boxes.
After graduating in Modern Languages from the University of Oxford, Eve Smith went on to be become Chief Operating Officer of an environmental charity, having always held a passion for wildlife. She also written an anthology to help raise money for the NHS.
The Waiting Rooms is her debut novel, and it has already been nominated for the Bridport Prize First Novel Award. She likes to write speculative fiction, often about the things that scare her.
A highly accomplished book, the author creates an fearsome world with great concepts, housing an intriguing mystery.
My rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐
*I received a free copy of the book in exchange for an honest review.
Check out the other reviews on the blog tour!