My rating: 2 out of 5 stars
Genre: Dystopian, Speculative Fiction
Published by Hodder & Stoughton, July 12 2018
What are you doing to help yourself? What are you doing to show that you’re worth the resources?
In a near-future world, medical technology has progressed far enough that immortality is now within grasp -but only to those who show themselves to be deserving of it. These people are the lifers: the exercisers, yogacisers, green juicers and early nighters.
Genetically perfect, healthy and wholesome, one hundred-year-old Lea is the poster girl for lifers, until the day she catches a glimpse of her father in the street, eighty-eight years after their last encounter. While pursuing him, Lea has a brush with death which sparks suspicions. If Lea could be so careless, is she worthy of immortality?
Suicide Club wasn’t always an activist group. It began as a set of disillusioned lifers, gathering to indulge in forbidden activities: performances of live music, artery-clogging meals, irresponsible orgies. But now they have been branded terrorists and are hunted by the state.
And Lea has decided to give them a call.
This book has such a brilliant premise: in this future, immortality is within grasp, but only for those ‘deserving’ and as such suicide is illegal, anything that might be construed as bad for your health is illegal in fact. I found this idea of preservation of life being the most important thing even before individual happiness and fulfillment so very very brilliant. But I struggled with the execution to no end.
I did think that the world Rachel Heng has created here is interesting and developed in such a way that it never felt info-dumpy. But once you start pulling at the threads it does not really make sense. Innovation has led to a world where organs are augmented, skin can be built to be near indestructible, and science has found out the best ways to life long and healthy lives – but at the same time there are people who will not receive those treatments and it never did become clear to me how that works – I would have liked to have this dichotomy explored more: how is decided whose life if worthy enough to make their suicide illegal? There are infinite possibilities to make this a strong indictment on our current society and I would have loved the book more for it. There were other things that did not make sense for me: it never becomes clear how much in the future we are and as such I did not buy the fundamental changes in education that have occurred. It is a plot point that only those who have long life-spans can become medical doctors because the education takes 40 years – and I don’t buy that. Why would anybody have to study for 40 years to be a good doctor? I don’t think education would change this fundamentally. It irked me especially because I think another explanation would have worked far better: medical degrees are expensive, amongst the most expensive in fact (when considering how much a single student costs universities), so why not make the exclusion of people with shorter life spans about this?
My biggest issue, by far, was the main character, Lea. I found her to be less than convincing and unpleasant to spend time with. She is 100 years old and even if that is young in the scheme of her potential life span she is still more than three times as old as I am but she felt like she was 20, tops. I did not get her and the weird back story she had did not work for me either. She never felt her age and never felt like a person. I had this whole elaborate theory in fact that she might actually not be human because this would be the only way her behaviour makes any sense. Also, a petty problem I had with her: she kept sweating behind her knees whenever she was uncomfortable and if that doesn’t scream ‘weirdly programmed robot’ then I don’t know (I am sorry if I am the weird one and everybody is in fact sweating behind their knees).
The second main character, Anja, was so much more interesting and if the book had been told from her perspective I would have enjoyed it a whole lot more. Her mother was one of those whose bodies were used to test new procedures and now her heart keeps going even though she is brain-dead but she is not allowed to die because life is precious even though she might be stuck and suffering. This is such a creepy, brilliant concept that I would have loved to have seen explored more. But we spend so much more time with Lea than with Anja that this could not save the book for me.
So yes, I struggled with this, and I am super disappointed because the bones of this story are so brilliant.
I received an arc of this book courtesy of NetGalley and Hodder & Stoughton in exchange for an honest review.