I should explain.
We start with a group of schoolboys making handwritten copies of the book of the unnamed midwife. Their teacher is old and pregnant, too old to be pregnant in fact. She tells them the book may cause them to fall sick because the contents are horribly disturbing, but they must perform the task assigned to them. Quite a lot of years have passed since the book was originally written. The boys excitedly start.
That was the prologue and that, honestly, was the most interesting part of this book. I really, really wanted to read more about that school and the era it was set in.
We then move to the actual story. It appears to be our time, give or take a few years. A disease of some kind has struck the population and it has wiped out 98% or so of it. It mainly affects women, more specifically pregnant women. Neither the mothers, nor the children survive this deadly disease. Our narrator, the unnamed midwife, gets affected too, and when she wakes up, she sees she’s the only one in the hospital. She doesn’t know how many days or months have passed. Stepping out of the place, she realizes the world has become very dangerous for women, given that the ratio of male to female is now 10:1, and in a world that’s descended to lawlessness, men have turned savage. In order to protect herself, she dresses up as a man and goes around the country trying to protect the women she finds.
TBOTUM, originally published in 2014, is a winner of the Philip K. Dick award. That aside, there were quite a few things about this book that bothered me. Why did the disease affect women more than men? It is described as an extinction event, so is it some “survival of the fittest” thing? If so, are women unfit to survive? Moving on. Let’s see now, this isn’t an original plot, is it? There have been several post apocalyptic stories – both books and movies – where either one group survives, or one woman survives (thereby battling the savage men) or one man survives (who battles zombies or some such). There are some themes in this book that most definitely should have been explored further. The bit in the prologue being one of them. Alas, the reader doesn’t get much. It’s a shame, really. Each of the chapters starts of with a journal entry written in a horrible font, followed by the story narrated in 3rd person. I would mark this book down for that font alone, to tell you the truth!
And now all of that aside, what bothered me most was the pedestrian language. When I said the prologue was the most interesting part for me, what I meant is, that’s the one part that’s actually written well. It sets an atmosphere: a school (I imagined something like a monastery), a group of boys, books so old that their pages disintegrate if sunlight falls on them, a silver-haired pregnant teacher. The atmosphere this scene set was just superb. You enter the book with the expectations set by the beauty of the prologue. What you get, instead, is writing that makes you believe this was written for teens, by a teen. In fact, had it not been for all the violence and the gore, I would’ve called it post-apocalyptic YA. Talking about the violence itself, it’s presented like it’s merely there for shock value: “Oh the horror! Oh these men! Oh these rapes and these womb trades!” (If this reminds you of Mad Max, then let me tell you, me too, me too!) I don’t feel subjects as these should be utilized for shock value.
I read this book while in bed with a raging fever. At one point I had one of those fever-induced delirious dreams, in which I saw a few scenes from the book. I think I was the unnamed midwife in that dream, though I’m not entirely sure. That was, now that I think about it, kinda fun. Lesson: Fevers make overdone plotlines interesting!
Note: I received an ARC of this book from Netgalley/47North. My review is honest and unbiased.