Friday, 27 September 2019

The Sea Inside Me by Sarah Dobbs

I've been reading a little 'off piste' recently, ignoring review books in favour of catching up with those I've bought myself, so here's the first of them - The Sea Inside Me by Sarah Dobbs.

I picked this up when I was at the Unthology 11 launch in Norwich (both are published by Unthank Books). I read Sarah Dobbs' debut novel Killing Daniel a few years ago and have been looking out for more by her since then, dystopian post-apocalypse novels seem to fit my mood at the moment, and (always important) the cover appealed, so I treated myself.

The story is set in a future Britain, where people seem to live in an almost siege-like state; under attack from the sea which has made great inroads on the land (Newark-by-the-Sea is presumably Newark-on-Trent which currently lies a long way inland) and from terrorists. Newark is being used as a pilot scheme of a new way to combat crime and fear by erasing victims' memories. Audrey is a Processing Officer dealing with the people whose minds are to be wiped, but among them is one, a girl named Candy, whose memory seems to be returning. With the scheme about to go nationwide, no one wants any hiccoughs in the process, so Audrey's superiors set her to tail Candy, and soon she's uncovering far more than she expected.

In a way reminiscent of  'The Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind', people have their minds wiped of anything unpleasant, but in Newark-by-the-Sea the memories aren't just of unhappy love affairs but of far more violent events, and instead of a cutsie rom-com this is a gripping thriller.

The grim, grittiness and corruption hiding beneath the shiny facade, the random terror attacks, the mind-control exercised on a more or less willing public, the fear of the sea surges that threaten Newark with alarming regularity, all add up to a disturbing view of a not-too-distant future. The world building is great, and the reader's dropped straight into this unfamiliar place that feels like a twisted, nightmarish version of somewhere you know. Newark is contrasted with the twee, cosy suburban 'middle England' world of Audrey's parents - but really the two places are similar at heart; in one bad things are erased; in the other, everyone's too polite to mention them.
As Audrey's investigation leads her into the murky underworld of Newark, violence erupts around her, and she also finds herself asking questions about her own past, and the authenticity of her memories.

I know dystopian fiction isn't everyone's cup of tea, but I loved it! If I'm drawing comparisons, I'd say it's like something Philip K Dick could have written.

Maryom's review - 5 stars 
Publisher - Unthank 

Genre - dystopian sci-fi adult fiction

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