The Testament of Jessie Lamb by Jane Rogers
Women are dying in their millions. Some blame scientists, some see the hand of God, some see human arrogance reaping the punishment it deserves. Jessie Lamb is an ordinary girl living in extraordinary times: as her world collapses, her idealism and courage drive her towards the ultimate act of heroism. If the human race is to survive, it’s up to her. But is Jessie heroic? Or is she, as her father fears, impressionable, innocent, incapable of understanding where her actions will lead?
I have to admit I’ve had The Testament of Jessie Lamb sat on my shelf for a while now. My interest piqued when it was long listed for the Man Booker Prize last year, but then after hearing a considerable amount of negative criticism surrounding it, I have to admit my desire to read it was dampened somewhat. Now, after winning the prestigious Arthur C. Clarke Award, and beating the likes of one of my favourite authors; China Mieville, I knew I had to make my own mind up on this one, and I am so very glad I did.
Within a matter of pages I was immediately hooked by the story, and by the wonderful and captivating voice of Jessie Lamb, and the world in which she lives. Jessie is a young girl growing up in a very strange world. A virus has infected the entire population of the world, but the thing about this virus is that it is only activated in women when they become pregnant. Women will die before they ever get the chance to give birth. This ultimately means the end of the human race as we know it. This might sound like your average disaster novel/movie at the moment, but trust me it’s far from it. What Jane Rogers has done here is create a world that seems so unbelievably natural, and so real as you follow Jessie’s day to day life amongst the chaos.Rogershasn’t so much focused on the ‘bigger picture’ but more the little things. For instance, campaign groups begin to crop up all over society, from feminists, to animal activists, and even groups of children wanting to overthrow the adults who are in charge of them. Despite not knowing where the virus came from, there are obvious assumptions, whether it be terrorists or climate change. But the younger generation are ultimately the ones that will have to deal with the real issues further down the line, when the population decreases in its thousands. They blame the older generation for ruining their futures.
Jessie’s father is a scientist, so as readers we get a glimpse into the experiments that take place to try and create a breakthrough into this virus, create a cure or a solution, just some sort of hope to give to the people. Pregnant women are being placed in comas, are volunteering and sacrificing their lives for the future of mankind. As you can imagine, many ethical questions are thrown into the mix, and Jessie has her own decision to make. She is certainly at a very impressionable age, and after seeing her father helping towards a cure, Jessie is desperate to do her bit. She wants to help, but just how much is she willing to sacrifice for a future she may or may not be a part of?
There is so much in this novel, it’s hard to include it all in this little review. I absolutely loved this book, so much so that it actually took me by surprise to find it so heavily criticised. What is it about this book that makes it so shunned by the literary community, and praised by the sci-fi community? Although there are obvious elements of science fiction in it, it doesn’t read much like sci-fi, to me anyway. The whole scenario certainly feels plausible and a little too real at times. So what was it about this book that made people criticise its inclusion on the Man Booker long list? And yet with all the criticism surrounding the Arthur C. Clarke award short list, this was mostly the one title people agreed should win the award. Maybe it’s just a case of if you read sci-fi, you’re a little more open-minded to these futuristic scenarios, or maybe it’s the young-adult feel to the language of the novel that makes it not quite literary enough for the likes of the Man Booker Prize? Who knows…
I really hope I’ve made at least one person want to give this novel a shot from this review. I think it will probably make my list of favourite reads for the year, and it has stayed with me long since I turned the last page. I remember what it was like being a teenager and dealing with argumentative parents, and crushes on boys, just like Jessie, but I don’t even think I could begin to imagine what I would do if I was in her shoes facing decisions that no teenager should ever have to face.
The Testament of Jessie Lamb is out now, published by Sandstone Press, with a new cover reissue being released this July. A massive thank you to the publisher for providing me with a copy for review.
- Arthur C Clarke award goes to Jane Rogers (guardian.co.uk)
- Review: The Testament of Jessie Lamb (walkingwithnora.com)
- The Arthur C. Clarke Awards Controversy: Internet Puppies, Rant-Analysis, and Christopher Priest (omnivoracious.com)
- Arthur C Clarke award shortlist ‘dreadful’, says Christopher Priest (guardian.co.uk)