Monday, February 25, 2013

Genesis: A Review

Bernard Beckett's Genesis is a post-apocalyptic novel set in a future where the memory of the apocalypse are recounted as historical events.  The initial apocalyptic event was a world wide pandemic plague that killed most of humanity except on a small isolated island in the South Pacific.  The island's situation has stabilized, but at the start of the novel there is what appears to be a bit of a dystopian situation, and how all these changes came about is the general subject matter of the novel.  When the novel was originally released in New Zealand it was directed at a YA (young adult) audience.  It's various re-releases have generally been toward an adult market.


Genesis
Hard bound cover - U.S.

Initially I thought Genesis was New Zealander, Bernard Beckett's first novel. More correctly it appears to be the first novel that broke out to a wider audience.  As is often the case, he has worked many years to become an overnight sensation.  He finished Genesis while he was on a research fellowship investigating DNA mutations.   At the moment he appears to be teaching drama, mathematics, and English as a high school teacher in Wellington, New Zealand.  Genesis won the Prix Sorcieres in France, was short listed for the Guardian Children’s Book Prize 2009, and won the NewZealand Post Book Award 2007 for Young Adults, and the 2007 Esther Glen Award.


The novel takes place at two levels simultaneously.  The story is told through a young lady who is giving an oral presentation to a group of examiners for admission to The Academy:  The Academy which sets the rules and organizes her present society.  The story she tells is of a famous individual, Adam Forde, who was a rebel against the Platonic philosophy based government that had ruled the island in the immediate aftermath of the apocalyptic crises.
 
At 157 pages it is not a particularly long work, coming very close to being a long novella.  With much of the dialog involving either issues of morality, or concepts of consciousness and humanness, it doesn't sound like a page turner;  But it is.  There is a lot of tension.  The young protagonist, Anex(imonder), is under  lot of pressure to do well under questioning, and at the same time there are sinister hints in the both the past tense story she is telling, and the present tense situation that is unfolding.  There is a double twist ending which some may catch on to part of, but I doubt many will figure out all of it.  But there are hints.  It's almost a philosophical murder mystery, without any obvious bodies around.
 
Obviously I liked the novel.  It has received a lot of hype in some quarters, and deserves it.  There is an immense amount of tension, and even violence of a sort dressed up within a YA novel.
 
We will move on to our two descriptive quantification:  Realism and Readability:  1 to 7:  4 is the midpoint, and seven is high.
 
Realism is a bit difficult.  It is mostly people talking to each other, so there is not a ton of material to be specifically unrealistic with.  But it does tend to deal with rather higher concept issues than the living of day to day life, and there is a science fiction speculative element that clearly removes it from the current world setting.  In net I would but it at the midpoint: a 4.
 
Readability is easy.   There is a little bit of symbolism as many of the characters have the names of ancient Greek philosophers or leaders.  They are all pretty obvious and easy to google.  There is of course an Adam, and an (intentionally ironically named) Eve.   So we will take off a point for obscuring symbolism of on a minor scale.  Otherwise it is a relatively short page turner:  a literary six.
 

One of the YA audience covers

6 comments:

Francis Lee said...

Had not heard of this but as you said it was initially aimed at the YA market of which I'm not....and for quite a while now!

russell1200 said...

Francis: But you are still young at heart!

PioneerPreppy said...

This one doesn;t sound that enticing.

russell1200 said...

Pioneer: It's hard to describe without giving away too much. There is a certain bloody mindedness to it that I think you would appreciate. The one with the elephant (coming up on Friday) is my favorite though.

James M Dakin said...

The guys that award the big sci-fi award ( brain fart right now, can't remember the name ) call a novel at 40k words or more. A novella under that count. Officially. Most of us feel anything under 60-80k words is a cheat for a novel.

russell1200 said...

James: At 250 per page (loose standard) and 156 pages, we would have 39,000 words. Wich is pretty close. You could call it a long novella I suppose.

Science fiction has gone from being a relatively short in length genre, to being a bit long winded. The doorstop nature of a lot of the writing keeps me from reading more of it. If it were a tight 80k words, it would be one thing, but that is often not the case. Romance, and Mystery (but not historical romance) are the shortest.