The Testament of Jessie Lamb

Jane Rogers
The Testament of Jessie Lamb Cover

The Testament of Jessie Lamb


Although not billed as such this which was long listed for the Man Booker prize and won the Clarke award is essentially a YA.

Set in the near future the book details a world devastated by a terrorist attack that released a virus which kills women when they become pregnant. The science gets a little wonky but the virus is supposed to suppress the immune system like the AIDS virus so that the women develop CJD a prion disease similar to mad cow. A way of putting pregnant women into a coma so that the baby can be born safely is developed. It works best when the women are young. Some women volunteer to have babies this way and are known as Sleeping Beauties. The book tells of the decision of 16 year old Jessie Lamb to become one of these Sleeping Beauties (the book is set in the UK where 16 is the age of consent).

In writing the book the author says she was influenced by Ishiguro's "Never Let Me Go" (a book about clones fatalistically waiting to be dismembered for body parts) and of "The Diary of Anne Frank". She sees it as a statement of the irrepressible optimism of youth. For the life of me I fail to see how suicide can ever be described as optimistic.

The book is set around Ashton near Manchester and area that was part of the depressed industrial North when I lived in nearby Yorkshire 30 years ago. From what I hear it hasn't improved much. Depression is the name of the game here as society disintegrates from the disease, young women die, nurseries are closed and warring ideological factions bring a constant diet of riots and disruptions. On top of this Jessie's parent's marriage is on the rocks, her boyfriend is cheating on her and her aunt deliberately gets herself pregnant and dies. Jessie just wants everything to stop, she just wants to switch off and what better way than to go into a coma and help save the world in the process.

How in seven hells can this be described as optimistic? In what way is Jessie different from a young suicide bomber (they both think they are saving the world)? Why is this not fairly common teenage depression and escapist nonsense?

Although very well written I can't recommend this book. Unless it was to an enemy with depressive tendencies and to whom I wished to do harm.