Beware of author events in Waterstone’s! This book begins with the author being shot while doing a reading.
And it’s a worryingly topical book. The Resident IT Consultant had bagged it right when the riots began last month. Curfews for the young. ‘Overenthusiastic’ measures taken by the authorities. The one thing the book ‘got wrong’ was the Waterstone’s incident. In our real riots no one went close to bookshops, whereas in Blackout it’s books and reading that are illegal. At least reading the wrong books.
I have to disagree with the Resident IT Consultant on one point, however. I don’t think Sam Mills wrote Blackout, expecting her readers to know the classics she incorporates into the plot. I believe she wants to tease her young readers into going off and trying these books afterwards. And I imagine they will want to.
Blackout was the book I came away from the Lancashire Book of the Year award feeling I simply must read, because almost every teenager mentioned this as their second favourite after the winner, Keren David.
So, after Stefan shoots the author in the bookshop, we learn what has happened up until that moment. We’re in the future, but not all that far off. His father owns a bookshop, and Stefan gets impatient with his Dad at times, because he’s old-fashioned and keeps talking about ‘real’ books. He’s especially fond of Paradise Lost, for some reason.
At school they read books (on their e-readers), and Stefan was very taken with the happy ending of 1984. Maybe it’s only us oldies who will know that something isn’t quite right here, but Stefan slowly realises that the re-written books they read at school have been very drastically changed.
And there is Catcher in the Rye which will be there to tease him throughout the book. Lady Chatterley’s Lover. Sex is bad. So is drink. Children are shocked when they hear how rude young people were to their teachers in the olden days. The government really cares about people, which is why they protect them from all that is truly horrible.
So it’s up to the freedom fighters of the Words (or terrorists, if you like) to try and change things. Banned Books are dangerous. You could end up in the Institution, and maybe you’ll get yourself some new, better parents in the process. Or at the very least, a bottle of Good Behaviour Pills.
Public executions are a regular and popular public entertainment. All for the greater good, of course.
What makes Blackout so scary is that it feels as if society has barely moved from what we know today. I can visualise the caring government. And what could be worse than books? This is an exciting read, and until the last five pages or so, I couldn’t even begin to guess how it would end.