There are times when I think I could write a book. Why not? I have a first in English and I’ve been reading voraciously since I was 5. I have even started a memoir. Surely I could do it. They say everyone has a book in them don’t they? Then I read this. This astounding, raw, unflinching and inspirationally creative novel is proof that some of us were born to write. This book, is quite simply astonishing.
I can’t write much about the content of the book without ruining it for others and that’s the last thing I want to do, So I’ll tread carefully…
Our narrator Fern Dostoy is a writer, one of the ‘big four’ novelists of the not too distant future. This is a future where the Anti-Fiction Movement’s campaign to have all fiction banned has been successful. It was Fern’s third novel, Technological Amazingness, that was cited as a dangerous fiction likely to mislead and possibly incite dissent in it’s readers. She had created a dystopian future where two major policies were being adopted as standard practice. To avoid poor surgical outcomes, only patients who are dead can have an operation. Secondly, every so often, families would be called upon to nominate one family member for euthanasia – leading to the deaths of thousands of elderly and disabled people. All fiction authors, including Fern, are banned from writing and the only books on sale are non-fiction. The message is that fiction is bad for you, it lies to the reader giving them misleading ideas about the world and how it’s run. Facts are safe. AllBooks dominated the market for books until it became the only bookshop left, state sanctioned of course and only selling non-fiction. From time to time they hold a book amnesty where people can take their old, hidden novels to be pulped. Fern now cleans at a hospital and receives unannounced home visits from compliance officers who question her and search her house to ensure she’s not writing. Added to this dystopian nightmare are a door to door tea salesman, an underground bedtime story organisation, a mysterious appearing and disappearing blue and white trainer, re-education camps for non-compliant writers and a boy called Hunter. All the time I was reading about this terrible new world, I was taking in the details. and trying to imagine living in it.
Yet there was a little voice in the back of my mind telling me this wasn’t the real story. I’d figured that out, even though I was confused, this was one of those books where it would all come together and I would understand. I had strange feelings of anger and frustration with the narrative, not because it isn’t brilliantly and vividly brought to life, but because I could sense something else going on underneath. I couldn’t quite get to the bottom of it. As the pressure built and the compliance officers started to push Fern into telling the truth, I inexplicably felt a lump building in my throat. I’d no idea why I was feeling so choked up. I read the final third with tears streaming down my cheeks, followed by full-on sobbing. I hadn’t known my emotions were so engaged with Fern’s story until my husband came home and I couldn’t even speak to explain why I was crying. It was like I’d known this was where the story was going all along.
I want to say thank you to Louise. Thank you for this incredible book and the emotions it unleashed. I can’t even say why the book had this effect on me without ruining it. This is a real work of genius. It shows us how strong our minds can be at protecting us from things we don’t want to face. I understood Fern and her story moved me deeply. This is, without doubt, a contender for book of the year and an unparalleled look at allowing ourselves to be vulnerable and open; to be human. This is an incredibly powerful novel about storytelling, creativity, grief and fear. It also asks the question: who are we when everything that defines who we are, is taken away?
Published by Hodder and Stoughton 23rd March 2023.
Meet The Author
Louise Swanson is the pen-name of bestselling author Louise Beech, who has published seven novels with Orenda Books. Her work has previously been longlisted for the Not the Booker and Polari prizes and shortlisted for the Romantic Novel awards. She also won Best’s Book of the Year with her 2019 psychological thriller CALL ME STAR GIRL. Aside from being a novelist, she regularly writes travel pieces for the Hull Daily Mail, where she was a columnist for ten years. She also recently worked as the Front of House for the Hull Truck Theatre.
Louise Swanson’s debut End of Story arrives in March 2023. She wrote the book during the final lockdown of 2020, following a family tragedy, finding refuge in the fiction she created. The themes of the book – grief, isolation, love of the arts, the power of storytelling – came from a very real place. Swanson, a mother of two who lives in East Yorkshire with her husband, regularly blogs, talks at events, and is a huge advocate of openly discussing mental health and suicide.
Her memoir, Daffodils, was released in audiobook in 2022, and the paperback version, Eighteen Seconds, will be out April 2023.She blogs regularly on louisebeech.co.uk, and is on Twitter under the name @LouiseWriter.