The world changes. Can dystopiae change? Can authors imagine new dystopiae enough to convince a sceptical reader?
We asked Melissa Coulton to review Phil Gilvin’s Truth Sister, a YA (Young Adult) novel recently published by Impress Books.
Here is her report.
Phil Gilvin’s Truth Sister
Reviewed by Melissa Coulton
The year is 2149, and in a world of switched power Clara Perdue is a student at The Academy with her hopes and dreams focused on being a respectable and pure member of the Republic, a system operated by females. After Clara’s graduation, she returns to her mother, aunt and ‘manservant’ where her flawless life is corrupted by a truth her mother and the ‘manservant’ – James – can no longer withhold. Clara flees for the city in a bid to conceal her new secret and pursue her career as a ‘Truth Sister’. As a Truth Sister, Clara feels important and a proud citizen of the Republic, despite her secret. She carries out work for the party and perceives herself close to the top of the class hierarchy. However, it isn’t long until Clara discovers the many flaws that are hidden below the surface within this system, when she receives a warning letter from her mother. Again, Clara’s life is thrown into turmoil as she flees the scene again and returns home. Finding her mother and James absent upon her return, Clara confides in her aunt for support, and yet again has to abscond to ensure her survival. On the run, Clara stumbles upon an old barn, where she takes shelter. Here she is discovered by a group of ‘Naturals’ also on the run from the Republic, who survive by an ongoing journey, friendship and stealing food from small villages. The ‘Scrapers’ allow Clara to tag along, as long as she contributes to the lifestyle and the readers witness a friendship develop between the protagonist and Jack Pike. Eventually Clara learns that the party hasn’t been entirely honest, and her education has ultimately been a waste of time, she slowly loses grip with the Republic and has an urge to unravel more hidden information that the system is covering up, she also feels the need to find her mother and James. Therefore, she disconnects from the Scrapers and ventures on her own journey, which is tough and exhausting. Clara manages to gravitate back towards her Scrapers, however, on this occasion, she is only reconnected with one of the Scrapers, Jack, as the others are hunted down by the Republic’s guards, ‘Repsegs’. Clara who is devastated by what she had just witnessed, then finds her friendship with Jack is obliterated, as he accuses Clara of being a spy and informing the Repsegs on the Scrapers’ whereabouts. This not being the case, Jack soon understands, and their journey continues. The two of them, cold, vulnerable and starving, make their way to London, after a few stops and eventually part ways again. Clara finds James as reveals her honest truth to him, while Jack searches with hope for some remaining Scrapers. Clara, dragged through riots, fear and hostility, retains her courageous character, educates a Repseg on the realities of the system and earns her escape from her fate.
Image from Impress Books
On first exploration of Phil Gilvin’s Truth Sister, I pondered on the idea that it may be a feminist text, then on further analysis into the story, I figured it may have been written as an anti-feminist text. I reached the conclusion, however, that the story altogether was, perhaps, highlighting that both the male and female genders can lead to a disastrous world. In fact, it is ultimately human beings as a whole and the obsession to want and be better that has possibly led Gilvin to describe a scary and all too relatable dystopian narrative. One of the best features within Truth Sister is the portrayal of the protagonist, Clara. Gilvin makes it clear from the start that the reader is supposed to dislike Clara, for her devoted, committed and orthodox attitude. This is an unusual approach for a dystopian novel, as rebellion is generally detected from the beginning. This bold move leads me on to my love of Clara, as we detect a brave and relatable character who is plunged into uncertainty at a time, due to her age, life is already confusing.
“Gilvin has focused on the real problems”
Like many dystopian texts, Gilvin has focused on the real problems that are present in our world today; the power that authority figures hold, control of the masses, social and class divides and the advancing technology that is focused on genetic engineering. Just as Margaret Atwood describes the ‘Crakers’ in her 2003 dystopian novel Oryx and Crake, I envisaged the ‘Pureclones’ to be similar, flawless and orthodox. It is a concern in today’s society as well, with the fixation on beauty, where pregnancies are aborted, because the baby lacks the ‘right nose’ or ‘right colour eyes’, and Gilvin highlights the fault in genetic engineering and where it can lead us, if we abandon our individuality. Furthermore, the natural human instinct, the want for power and domination, is also truly reflected in Gilvin’s dystopian realm. Today and throughout history, in our world, this craving for power really has always lingered and possibly always will. The Republic’s desire for power, is a key feature within many dystopian texts. For example it is a key aspect of George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four, where all power is exerted through Ingsoc in order to control the masses.
Image from Wikipedia
To conclude, my initial opinion on this novel was clouded by my love for dystopian fiction. I questioned how a recently published dystopian novel could bring used ideas to the table and make them new. Gilvin, however, does do this with his focus on a young conforming character who transforms into a rebellious and enlightened individual. It is indeed captivating. The writer’s style is also an effective feature: not necessarily linking to the dystopian text, but in general Truth Sister is written to involve and engulf the reader, who travels with Clara in a daunting and controlled narrative.
“captivating … written to involve and engulf the reader”
Melissa Coulton is a recent matriculand to an English Midlands university, and a staff member of Scarthin Books of Cromford. As an A-Level student studying George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four she began to read widely in dystopian literature. We hope to feature more of her work on the Orwell Society website.
Uploaded August 22nd 2018