This is a book that puts the Z in zeitgeisty – every element of a timely contemporary satire is in place: a Farage-esque MP (with far-right affiliations), a social networking / tech giant infiltrating democracy and employment; a vacuous Jordan Peterson-type character; #metoo gender politics and online trolling (and dick pics); as well as more standard social satire stables of class division and wider social inequality. As many other reviewers have mentioned, this gives it both an intoxicating immediacy and also a strong sense that it will date very quickly.
At the centre of this maelstrom of plot lines, which interweave cleverly, is the relationship between Jess & Robert; a relationship founded on mistrust, deception and a growing mutual dislike. Robert writes columns for an online magazine (pseudo-Spiked) and for the Daily Record (a Daily Mail / Daily Express fill-in), and he finds himself being drawn to increasingly binary right-wing positions that he doesn’t (or didn’t) believe in. Jess has been the victim of online trolling and now supports other women going through the same thing, along with the mysterious and mercurial Deepa.
There is a huge amount here to enjoy: lots of laughs from Byers’ one-liners and witty insights; some genuinely dark and troubling moments within the software giant or the flat of an old man the housing company wants out the way; and some nifty ‘aha’ plot devices which I was mostly pleasantly surprised by. The odd aspect of the plot overreaches a little, but on the whole it all works extremely well – and does get you thinking about the realities of current situations from a new perspective.
I do think it could be a bit shorter: Byers has a tendency to slightly over-explain or over-extemporise which occasionally gets in the way of the pace of the action (or underestimates his reader). Also, I found the last 50 pages or so a bit meandering, and didn’t like the ending, which is a bit clever-clever for my liking – I think it also misjudges what is the central narrative of the book, and therefore where the reader might be looking for resolution.
All that said, there is more than enough here to warrant a read – much fun and frolics in the dystopian satirical ride. Thanks to Kate C for giving a favourable review online which brought it to my attention. And if you are going to read it, which I’d recommend, do it soon before events overtake it!
BUY IT NOW: Perfidious Albion