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

Monday, January 18, 2016

2016/06: The Grasshopper's Child -- Gwyneth Jones

‘We don’t belong at school. We’re far older at fifteen than we would have been if this was, I don’t know, the year 2000. Because everything’s changed.’

‘Younger, too,’ said Clancy wryly. ‘The government says so. It’s important to be young.’ [loc. 3883]

The Grasshopper's Child isn't exactly a sequel to the 'Bold as Love' series, though it features some of the same characters and takes place in the same future, about ten years after the end of Rainbow Bridge. It's a YA novel, with a single thread focussing on a teenager, Heidi, who discovers corruption and crime in the small Sussex village of Mehilhoc when she's sent there to work for an elderly brother and sister.

English society and culture has settled into an uneasy equilibrium. England is still ruled by the Chinese, and the Welfare State has morphed into a system of indentures and forced agricultural labour. Heidi is effectively a slave, working to pay off her murdered father's debts. There are other teenaged carers in the village, too, and a well-meaning but not wholly effective system of support and education. Until the arrival of Heidi, and the mysterious 'hooded boy' Clancy, nobody seems to have questioned some of the more peculiar aspects of village life: the ghosts (are they ghosts?) that Heidi encounters in the old house; the benevolence of the local aristocrats, the Carron-Knowells; the undercover copper in the woods.

Heidi quickly finds her feet, is adopted by a smelly old cat, and unravels the many puzzles, past and present, of Mehilhoc. Meanwhile, she makes new friends, witnesses modern-day piracy, and even gets to attend the People’s Young Artist show (a horribly likely future for the X-Factor niche in popular entertainment). How cool that one of the judges is wearing an Ax Preston digital mask ...

The Grasshopper's Child was a quick read, but an interesting one. Despite the YA themes and structure, it offers insight into the future the follows the catastrophes and reversals of 'Bold as Love', and even into the future lives of the protagonists. Heidi's voice is distinctive and credible, and Jones' familiarity with and affection for the Sussex countryside is evident in the scene-setting. There's a distressing sense of hopelessness underlying the observations of Heidi and her friends. ('What's the use of history when there's no future?') and it's harder, in this setting, to write it off as adolescent angst. But the world is still changing around them, and the 'something rotten in the heart of England' is gradually rotting away.

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