No two persons ever read the same book. --Edmund Wilson

Saturday, February 13, 2010

2010/14: The Paper Eater -- Liz Jensen

Who would use red biro to address a letter? I'm not used to colour. Who would write in that stagey way, all loops and squirls?
A woman, that's who.
A marauder.
I chew over this thought, and others: dreams, fears, ghostly detritus, stray memories, and wild wishes; my mental cud; the unfinished and unfinishable business of a graunched heart. (p.44)

Liz Jensen's novels (at least the ones I've read: My Dirty Little Book of Stolen Time, The Ninth Life of Louis Drax) could be described as 'SF for people who won't read SF'. The Paper Eater is no exception: there's an artificial mid-Atlantic island (Atlantica) run by an AI (Liberty), a bureaucracy imploding under its own weight, consumerism run amok, people who exist only as data ...

Harvey Kidd is a prisoner on a penal ship, bound for Atlantica, where there will be a Final Adjustment -- an execution. Harvey's afraid it'll be his cell-mate, serial killer John. He seeks distraction in his hobby, which is making papier-mache the old-fashioned way: chewing up paper (in this case redundant criminal dossiers) to make the pulp. Harvey chews and muses: he remembers his family, his life on Atlantica, and Hannah Parks, the industrial psycho-statistician who questionnaired him after his arrest.

Meanwhile Hannah -- who is Not Good With People -- is trying to make sense of the data she's been given, and of her elevated status within Atlantica's bureaucracy, and of her relationship with her mother. (One of these things is doomed to failure.) It's beginning to make a horrid sort of sense ...

I'm not sure I buy the motivation behind Harvey's arrest (why not just invent?) or the rapidity with which his story's accepted by the mob. An enjoyable read, though: The Paper Eater is full of wry wit, some neat tricks and some sharp social observations.

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