Monday, 22 August 2011
Review: The Declaration - Gemma Malley
Extent: 304 pages
Pub Date: 5th May 2008
It's the year 2140 and Longevity drugs have all but eradicated old age. A never-aging society can't sustain population growth, however…which means Anna should never have been born. Nor should any of the children she lives with at Grange Hall. The facility is full of boys and girls whose parents chose to have kids--called surpluses--despite a law forbidding them from doing so. These children are raised as servants, and brought up to believe they must atone for their very existence. Then one day a boy named Peter appears at the Hall, bringing with him news of the world outside, a place where people are starting to say that Longevity is bad, and that maybe people shouldn't live forever. Peter begs Anna to escape with him, but Anna's not sure who to trust: the strange new boy whose version of life sounds like a dangerous fairy tale, or the familiar walls of Grange Hall and the head mistress who has controlled her every waking thought?
Not so long ago I watched a comedy programme on TV where a scientist came on and talked about drugs that would effectively stop cell degradation, resulting in a massive slowing of the aging process in humans. The scientist claimed that these drugs would become available in the next 30 years and they would be used to prevent diseases such as dementia, cancer, motor neurone and other horrible ailments. As soon as he said this I didn’t believe it would be that straightforward and the idea of “immortality” or at least life-doubling drugs has been playing on my mind ever since. I am especially intrigued by the social impact these drugs would have. Would they be available to everyone? Would there be an elite class of immortals who could afford the drugs? What would happen to employment levels and would we have enough resources for a sudden increase in the population?
When I downloaded The Declaration I wasn’t entirely sure what the story was about but I am so glad I read this book as it has tapped into these questions that I have been toying with for many months. Gemma Malley has put together an incredibly well thought out future where immortality is the norm and has comprehensively explored the impact such a change in society would have. I think she’s hit me in the face with the reality I didn’t want to admit: that procreation would be made illegal. And then she takes it a step further by exploring this future through the eyes of a girl who was illegally brought into the world. Anna’s voice is so wonderfully institutionalised with capitals on big doctrinal concepts like “Knowing Your Place” and at the start even in her head she follows the rules that have been implanted in her brain since childhood. What is really special about the writing is that as the story unfolds, this voice gradually and very subtly becomes more inquisitive and less accepting. At the same time, the mystery and threat builds and the sense of safety within the doctrine slips away with each chapter. I think this is my favourite style of writing, where developments just seep into your reading – Anna’s relationship with Peter, the discovery of the truth and the curing of the indoctrination – nothing ever switches immediately, forcing you to stumble through a few chapters as you try to come to terms with a sudden change in attitude. It is completely natural.
I think The Declaration really embodies the spirit of dystopia. It’s a world that people have tried to force into a utopia and in doing so have made it completely the opposite. Gemma has been entirely successful in showing the reader the truth about humanity, the side we try to cover up in inspirational, God-Bless-America films and heart-warming documentaries. She has brought out the worst in people, the cruelty and wilful self-preservation that humanity has an alarming propensity for when it comes to the crunch. Don’t forget that alongside those films and documentaries are Big Brother and The Apprentice.
I’m so glad I read The Declaration as not only is it a brilliant story well written it has helped me to work through what would really happen – not just my optimistic and fair ideality – if humanity became immortal and I have now made up my mind that it cannot happen. I think Gemma herself sums it up beautifully in Anna’s metaphor: “‘I mean, old leaves fall off trees, don’t they? Why should old humans stay and the new ones not be allowed? Is that really what Mother Nature wants?’”