Friday, 17 May 2013

Book Review: The Machine by James Smythe

The Machine
By James Smythe
Published by Blue Door
Hardback and ebook available. Paperback forthcoming. 

The Machine is one of those books that are hard to talk about because one slip of the tongue could unravel the fun of the story for a potential reader. So, I will try and not give away too many spoilers. This book successfully blends together several genres – part science fiction, part love story, part psychological drama, creating an intense, gripping story.

The Machine tells the story of Beth as she tries to find a way of getting back her husband and war veteran, Victor, no matter what the cost. Her only hope is ‘the machine’. Scientists have created an imposing contraption to help patients with dementia and memory loss to get back their memories and their old lives. The machine can purge, remove the past, commit memories but simply recording recalled memories from the person and replenish those memories back into the patient. Victor was one of a few who had signed up for the initial tests with the machine but has ended up in care facility.

There are echoes of Frankenstein and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind throughout the novel. There were times when I thought of the machine being similar to the one used in Eternal Sunshine – except the one in Smythe’s book replants the memories rather than extracts. But the results are similar – ripping apart people’s lives.

The Machine delves into the same sort of themes that Smythe started to explore in The Explorer. Physical and mental isolation are big factors in Beth’s life. She lives on the Isle of Wight with the rest of the UK partially flooded. Climate change has transformed the landscape. The land is barren and dry. It hardly rains and when it does there are huge celebrations. She lives in an estate, tucked away in her flat and avoids contact with her neighbours and with her colleagues at the local school. There is a minimal ferry service back to the main land. She has forced herself into a self-imposed isolation from the real world. This is a dark, absorbing story intertwined with grand themes. Smythe ties it all together successfully. I could feel the hot oppressive air also closing in on them as I delved deeper into the book.

Everyone tries to carry on with their normal lives – going to school, ordering a curry on Friday, going to the pub. The normalcy of life reminded me of Nevil Shute’s On The Beach. There are rumblings of change and discontent but overall people carry on, waiting for some sort of catastrophe to arrive.

Smythe follows on from The Explorer with exploration of memory. There are points throughout the novel that Beth seems to remember events with rose-tinted glasses. Smythe tackles the reliability of memory and the way that people can create memories to create out own truths and reality. Should we rely on our memories? Are we the unreliable narrator of our own lives?

I have read three of Smythe’s novels – The Testimony, The Explorer and The Machine. Each book has been better than the last one and it’s about time that his books start winning awards. I am definitely looking forward to the next book. 

The Machine is available from your favourite online or offline book retailer.

I was kindly sent a copy by Blue Door.

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