LBC White Swan
Date: Sunday 11th of October 2015
Address: Swan Street, Leeds
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Huge thanks to Riley @McCluskry for providing this excellent write up! A long time book clubber; this is his first write up! Welcome to the team, Riley!
WHAT WOULD YOU DO
If the world outside was deadly,
And the air you breathed could kill.
AND YOU LIVED IN A PLACE
Where every birth required a death
And the choices you made could save lives – or destroy them.
THIS IS JULES’ STORY
THIS IS THE WORLD OF WOOL
Some of us approached ‘Wool’ with caution, put on the defensive by the sticker on the front, insisting that if you loved the Hunger Games, you’ll love this. Such marketing is, of course, a common thing in our society. After all, how many Da Vinci code inspired book covers have we seen on shelves? The statement on the front of the book tells us what we have in store for us, and such claims usually fall flat when we realize this book doesn’t compare to The Hunger Games at all (if you’re into that sort of thing!) This time, however, the fears were unnecessary. Wool stands in its own right, perhaps containing several of the so-called typical markers of traditional dystopian fiction while managing to bring its own strengths to the table.
Though this wasn’t Howey’s debut novel, we decided it had the same sort of feel, as though pieces of his style were still being developed. It felt as though he had a checklist of things he wanted to include and was so determined to stick to it that some pieces felt under-developed or shoe-horned in, a throwaway sentence without much purpose in the grand scheme of things. These downfalls though we mostly agreed were outweighed by the book’s strengths.
Wool offers a good pace, keeping the reader turning the pages in eager anticipation of what will happen next. The worldbuilding, though slight in some places (hey, there are another two books in the trilogy to get into that with, you know!) gives us the picture we need in order to understand where these characters are coming from, and the characters themselves are gripping and fleshed out, free of cliches and managing to avoid the dreaded ‘strong woman’ stereotype – that character who mouths off and is good in a fight but isn’t allowed to be rounded or vulnerable. Our main protagonist (and our third, but we’ll get to that later!) is no such archetype. She’s realistic and has believeable flaws to match her strengths. There is no chosen one in this narrative. The characters are defined by the choices they make and the chain of events that put them in these positions, and the story is stronger because of it.
We agreed that the book had a very American and political feeling to it. The kind of anxiety that comes in the wake of 9/11, of a shady government being so afraid of collapse that they force it into tiny boxes, controlling its development and structure, outlawing the free-thinkers and those who dare to challenge the status quo. This is mostly shown through the IT department. One member joked that Howey has ‘definitely had a bad relationship with IT middle management in his time.’ However, what we also noted was that although we side with our protagonist and her goals, we found that the government’s fears and anxieties came from a real place. Some of the other silos (spoiler alert!) have collapsed because of attempted rebellions, because people tried to challenge the very status quo that was put in place to supposedly protect them, and the entire silo paid for it with their lives. The distrust of government is a strong theme throughout the book, and in a candid conversation between the characters Bernard and Lukas, we agreed that good and bad aren’t so black and white in this book, and that perhaps immoral choices can be made by immoral people but with good reasons. The best villains are always the ones whose side of things you can almost understand, and that’s definitely a strength in Howey’s novel.
Another thing we found daring was that the first protagonist we meet – a man named Holston – does not last very long. In fact, we meet him almost at his end. He sets up a tension that is felt throughout the book, the attempt to uncover what the government is really up to and what secrets they’re hiding. Once Holston meets his end, we meet our second protagonist, Mayor Jahns, another female character who, like Juliette, is strong in a good way, rounded and real and interesting. We were unanimous in our affection for her and how the author made us care about her in a relatively short number of pages, some of us almost shedding a little tear for her unspoken love with her deputy, Marnes. Both meet their end and Juliette takes over for the remainder of the novel, with other chapters led by characters peripheral to her. Introducing us to a series of three very different protagonists and expecting us to care about each of them was, we agreed, a brave thing for Howey to do, but he pulled it off. It’s one of the things that makes this novel not so typical, in spite of its similarities with other dystopian fiction. Blissfully, also, our characters are not teenagers, and their love stories don’t seem like nonsensical derailment.
What we found interesting as well was the prospect of hope. The characters for the most part, we decided, don’t often move between classes. Farmers will have farmers for children. Mechanics will birth other mechanics. It’s not a hard and fast rule, and some characters to break out of these boxes, but we get the feeling these are exceptions. For the most part, this is a world where it is what it is. What you see is what you get, and maybe there isn’t rule for hope. Lukas is an oddball for looking out to the stars. He dares not only to dream, but to have a hobby. The dream is that one day, the atmosphere will allow them to go outside, and that they had better keep their society running until they get there.
Overall, this was a well-received novel, in spite of failing one reader’s hundred pages test, and several of us are planning to (or already have, damn overachivers!) read the rest of the series. Howey does what he does, and he does it well. The story may not be the most original dystopian idea in the world, but he manages to create one that we want to be in, at least in the fictional sense of things.
7 out of 10
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