4th Sep 2012
The Miracle Inspector by Helen Smith
The Miracle Inspector - Helen Smith’s third novel (or fifth, if you include the Kindle-only Emily Castles mystery series) – is what you could paradoxically call a dystopian comedy.
Set in a world recognisably , but not quite, our own, and combining aspects of Nineteen Eighty-Four with a good helping of feminism, with this novel Smith has created a world that ensnares readers, and characters that capture our hearts.
The story follows a young couple, Lucas and Angela, who are trying desperately to escape the confines of a corrupt, patriarchal London for the safety of Cornwall, which has become a haven for refugees.
In the dystopian London that Smith has created, society has become paralysed by the fear of terrorism and paedophilia: schools are shut down because of the risk that teachers may be paedophiles, women have been forced from their jobs and must stay at home unless they are visiting other female relatives, borders are closed, and the government monitors and controls everything aspect of life – from the day-to-day of women’s lives down to the number of cats.
The relationship between Lucas and Angela is beautifully drawn, and for large parts of the book we see them struggle with their feelings for each other as well as with their anger at the regime under which they live.
Along with other characters – such as a rebellious poet and the mother of a child who might just be the only miracle in London – the story twists and turns until the separate plots weave perfectly together, leaving me astounded by Smith’s craft.
As well as the neatness and intricacy of the plotting, it is impossible to ignore Smith’s style. Some of her descriptions promise to haunt well after the final line is read, from the poignant – ‘Layers of regret hung between them like unfashionable wallpaper’ – to the disturbing: ‘He could have plucked her eyeballs from the sockets and strung them up and set them twirling with the tears still on them and they could have served as the disco balls for fairies’.
Before reading this book I’ll admit that I wasn’t familiar with Helen Smith, but I’d now happily count The Miracle Inspector as one of the finest novels of its genre.
With a true cliff-hanger of an ending, it almost broke my heart - but also hands the reader the power to imagine their own future for the characters. The Miracle Inspector’s twists and turns make it impossible to put down and, as summer reads go, they don’t come better than this.
Recommended for: Anyone who loves a dystopian novel with a light-hearted touch.
Other recommended reading: Smith’s other novels have received great reviews and I am itching to pick up Being Light. From other authors, turn to Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaids Tale and, for young adults, try Lauren DeStefano‘s Wither for more patriarchal madness.