Fiction Reviews

The Keepers

(1996) Pauline Kirk, Virago, 9.99, pbk, 405pp. ISBN 1 85381 838 0

There are many reasons not to read this book, and few reasons to do so. Do not read it because it is science fiction, for it is neither written nor marketed, nor can be fairly read as such. Nor because (to quote the blurb) it is "a powerfully imagined futuristic thriller", for it is fairly unimaginative, not very futuristic, and not very thrilling.

This book could be read as an exercise in ethnology, because it is as perfect an expression of unexamined middle-class Englishness as will ever be found masquerading as a novel. Its major characters, their politics, conversations, attitudes and children, are those of the English, monied middle class, while its landscapes, architecture, minor characters and events are all seen through the eyes of the middle class (female) protagonist. Overall this novel lacks any sense of imagined difference from the world in which it was written.

Far from being futuristic, the England depicted feels curiously old-fashioned. Ostensibly set in the 22nd century, there is no evidence that any building, idea or technology dates from later than the 1970's. The characters' sensibilities are even more old-fashioned: the prevailing tone is reminiscent of the fiction of the years after World War II. Although this is appropriate to the plot -- which entails a revolution against the Keepers, the rulers who gained power after a national catastrophe at least equivalent to a war -- the absence of any image or language reflecting a more modern idea of the future makes it impossible to read the book as science fiction.

This book is not a thriller. There are spies, traitors, conspiracies, revolutionary groups, armed attacks on the Keepers' centres of power, deaths, doubts, betrayals, and so on. There is a revolution, the Keepers are disthroned, a new democratic regime is instituted... Nice to know, after all, that it was not the system which was at fault. A few Bad Keepers were responsible for everything that was wrong, so nothing much will need to change. Such an English revolution, in which everything afterwards remains the same. And of course, the heroine marries the prince and lives happily ever after. Because, for all the trappings of thriller and future setting, this is a romance pure and simple. A well-written romance, with a reasonable plot and some moments of genuine feeling, but nothing more.

Caroline Mullan

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