Monday, 17 September 2018

Review: Sour Fruit, Eli Allison

Ha, it's not quite been two years since I last posted - that would just be an embarrassing delay, right? But what better way to restart this blog than with a book that I've not only been looking forward to, but that I actually helped make happen!

Yes, I am proudly listed among the supporters to Sour Fruit by Eli Allison, and if you aren't I reckon you missed a trick here. Anyway, it's now available to buy in shops and all the usual bookselling websites.

Set in a brutal, near-future dystopia, Sour Fruit is a exploration of powerlessness and dispossesion, of the cruelty and the humanity of those who find themselves on the bottom rung. Told through the eyes of Onion, a girl "forced into a knife fight with a world that has just pulled a machine gun on her" we are given a bleak and occasionally touching view of what people do to survive.

Shackled to the gentle, passive-seeming Rhea, Onion tries to escape the ghetto of Kingston and reinstate her Provisional INC number, thereby becoming a citizen again before the crime boss Milton Mooluke can sell her to a the sinister Toymaker. But as Kingston erupts in to violence, it becomes clear far more powerful and dangerous forces are at work around them.
But that would be cheating.
The whole thing is framed by Onion's interrogation by sinister Doctors some time after the events and we get the story first person. Abrasive, rude, and mistrusting, Onion makes a compelling narrator - her grim flippancy and verbal dexterity provide a necessary contrast to the darkness of the novel, and giving scathing descriptions of the various grotesqueries we meet. While some readers might find her aggressive lack of charm somewhat repulsive as a character trait, Allison uses it to convey Onion's youth and lack of agency, creating a portayal of vulnerable adolescence that is by turns heartbreaking and hilarious.

Meanwhile, the dystopian England portrayed - a ruthless, corporation-owned police state which has created a subclass to deal with the effects of climate disaster and a migrant crisis - is terrifyingly plausible, and Kingston's reaction against that is reminiscent of Angela Carter's nightmarish visions of a fallen America.

If Sour Fruit has a flaw, it is that Onion's POV is perhaps too limited for the events of moment that are occuring around her. The history of Kingston and the factions within it, of the Charlie babies and the rise of the INC numbers are fascinating ideas which don't get enought the space to breathe. This can stop what is a very well realised world from being conveyed clearly. It also affects the pacing of the novel in places, where the compelling action sequences are sometimes difficult to follow without further exposition.

That aside, it's a gripping, affecting novel which I would definitely reccommend to people who their dystopias violent and irreverrant. It reads likes something Margaret Atwood might write if she habitually took 'shrooms and spent her Friday's throwing down with Chuck Palahniuk in the Chatham dockyards of the early 90s, so if that sounds like your kind of thing then you will love this. 

And pparently it's the first of a trilogy, so there are more goodies to come!