Jessie Lamb is a normal teenage girl, living in a world ravished by biological terrorism in a near-distance future. MDT, or Maternal Death Syndrome, means women are unable to produce babies without triggering a fatal disease that has been unleashed onto humanity, resulting in the death of the baby and the mother.
As a literary population dystopia, Jane Roger‘s latest novel is reminiscent of P.D. James’s The Children of Men and The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood. Both these novels focus on the social aftermath of change in global reproduction rates, in a similar vain to Rogers’ novel. However, whilst the science of The Testament of Jessie Lamb is explored, perhaps more so than in other similar novels, it is kept simple, often explained to the reader through the adults of the novel as they explain things to teenage Jessie. Because of this, these novels can be seen more as thought experiments or speculative fiction, rather than hard science fiction, opening these novels up to a wider readership.
…providing interest and suspense as we try to predict her fate.
The adults quickly fall into the background as the narrative follows Jessie and her teenage dramas, giving the book a slightly Young Adult tone. Jessie’s voice is strong, and Rogers has perfectly captured the tone of an intelligent and reflective teenage girl. However, this is not a book about teenage drama, and Jessie’s priorities change as she becomes more aware of the pandemic that has shaped her world. Her young perspective gives the novel a unique and interesting slant.
The first part of the novel presents a series of events that lead up to a crucial decision Jessie makes. Rogers has interlaced a dualistic narrative – one in which Jessie is held captive, the other in which she is reflecting on past events – so that suspense and narrative thrust is formed around the mystery of why she is locked away, creating intrigue about how the changes in the world (both on a personal and international scale) come about. Once Jessie makes her decision, the rest of the novel explores her doubts, providing a new vein of interest and suspense as we try to predict her fate.
…a challenging thought experiment…
The novel explores a range of moral stances through the inclusion of various activist groups. Despite this, though rebellion and conflict often break out, the activist groups feel fairly controlled and small-scale. When faced with the imminent extinction of humankind, mass chaos – including the breakdown of all social constructs – would have perhaps been more realistic, and more frightening.
Overall, with its engaging voice, suspenseful structure and interesting content, this book is well worth a read. Though long-listed for The Man Booker Prize this year, it didn’t make it to the short-list – an understandable decision. Whilst this book engages its readers in a challenging thought experiment, in an interesting and accessible way, it will most likely not stand the test of time as a modern classic.
The Testament of Jessie Lamb is published by Sandstone Press and is available for £7.99
Image courtesy of Jane Roger