Sunday, June 08, 2008

Book Five: The Declaration by Gemma Malley

reading: 5:20-6:30, 6:45-7:10 (1 hour, 35 minutes), 301 pages
writing: 7:20-8:05 (45 minutes)

The Declaration by Gemma Malley. Bloomsbury, 2007 (978-1-59990-119-0) $16.95

I was immediately sucked into The Declaration from its beginning: "11 January, 2140. My name is Anna. My name is Anna and I shouldn't be here. I shouldn't exist. But I do." The basic premise--a future in which longevity drugs have made almost all reproduction illegal--is nothing new in science fiction, but there's always room for another good version. In Anna's world, we learn, she is a Surplus, a person who has no legal right to life because her parents signed the Declaration giving up their rights to children in exchange for Longevity drugs. "Surplus to requirements. Surplus to capacity." Out of the goodness of their hearts, the authorities take the barest minimum of care of the Surplus children, training them at Grange Hall to be perfect domestic servants for the Legals, and the training in Knowing Their Place is exceptionally thorough, as seen later in Anna's chilling memory of trying to experience a snowfall as a child:

"The snow is not falling for you," she'd shouted at her as she pulled Anna to her office by the hair, then set her down on the floor as she searched for her belt. "How dare you even look at it! How dare you spend one moment of your life looking at something beautiful when you should be working. Nothing good in this world exists for you."

Anna's completely accepts the fact that her parents were selfish to have her and that her job is to make herself as useful as possible while using up as few resources as possible--until Surplus Peter arrives at Grange Hall, telling her that the Declaration is wrong, that her parents love her, and that they are waiting for her outside...

Unfortunately, Anna's first person narrative doesn't last long (she is sneaking journal entries, highly forbidden) and the moment the narrative switches to a more pedestrian third person style, the story loses some tension which it never completely regains. It also suffers from a highly melodramatic and implausible conclusion and tends toward mallet-hitting rather than subtlety in making its points:

"People were so scared of Surpluses, she thought to herself. Legal children too, although you didn't see any of those around these days. It was as if everyone had completely forgotten about the good side of young people, had convinced themselves that anyone below the age of twenty-five was dangerous and subversive. Anyone under sixty, rather. That's how old the youngest person was now, apart from Surpluses and the odd Legal who slipped through the net after the Declaration. A world full of old people, Julia thought to herself, frowning. Old people who were convinced that they knew it all and that anything new or different could not be good--unless it related to Longevity drugs, of course."

Despite flaws, it is still a readable, intriguing story and there are some beautifully imagined moments: "The very idea of being allowed to read stories that weren't at all to do with making you more Useful seemed incredibly exciting to Anna, who had only ever been allowed to read approved text books on Longevity drugs and Housekeeping, along with long, ponderous works like Surplus Shame and The Surplus Burden on Nature: a Treatise, books which extolled the achievements of Longevity and explained in long, detailed paragraphs the Surplus Problem and the Enlightened Humane Approach, which enabled Surpluses to work in order to cover their Sin of Existence. Anna had read these books again and again, relishing the beautiful words and the cogent, well-structured arguments."

That paragraph just gives me chills. For an equally powerful but happier moment, there's this realization by Anna, when Peter tells her he loves her: "Surplus meant unnecessary. Not required. You couldn't be a Surplus if you were needed by someone else. You couldn't be a Surplus if you were loved." (12 & up)

Other blog reviews:

Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs - also for the 48 Hour Book Challenge

Jen Robinson's Book Page

Valentina's Room

Presenting Lenore


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Blogger Lenore Appelhans bligged...

Hey - great review. I did the challenge too. And I read and reviewed this book a couple of weeks ago. Here's a link if you're interested in reading it:

6/09/2008 5:46 AM  
Blogger web bligged...

Cool - I'll do a link.

6/09/2008 8:51 AM  

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