I’m ashamed to admit it, but I’m back to posting recycled LiveJournal book reviews. I haven’t finished my second book of 2014 yet (and at this rate, I definitely won’t be hitting my goal of 50), so I’ll have to share something I read (well, reread) back in 2012 until I finish the novel I’m currently working through.
Image courtesy of www.amazon.com.
The Wanting Seed by Anthony Burgess
I first read this book the year after I graduated from college, when I was living completely alone for the first time in an apartment in West Virginia. I remember liking it, though it didn’t have the same type of impact as something like The Bell Jar (which I reviewed here: And I Said I Know It Well). I originally picked up the book because I knew Anthony Burgess was the author of A Clockwork Orange and because it sounded interesting. I’ve never actually read A Clockwork Orange (though I definitely plan to in the future), but I enjoyed the movie when I saw it years ago.
Like A Clockwork Orange, The Wanting Seed is a dystopian novel. The novel is an imagining of what would happen if the world became overpopulated (though I guess these days that doesn’t take much imagination). It begins by focusing on a husband and wife, Tristram and Beatrice-Joanna Foxe, and the death of their young son. Due to overpopulation, there is a strict one birth per family limit. Living or dead, single or multiple, it doesn’t matter … A family just cannot have more than one birth. In addition, gay people are given preference for prestigious positions (especially in the government), as they will not be adding to the overpopulation problem.
Tristram’s brother, Derek, pretends to be gay to secure a cushy position with the government. Behind the scenes, though, he’s meeting up with Beatrice-Joanna in an ongoing affair. She becomes pregnant after sleeping with both Derek and Tristram in the same day, and decides she must run away to her sister’s house in the country before the pregnancy progresses to the point that it cannot be hidden.
Things become crazier as the novel progresses. Their once peaceful (but strict) society becomes a police state. A war breaks out, but no one knows who the enemy is … Not even those fighting. Everything is kept a secret, which is terrifying. Imagine being sent out in the dark to obliterate some unknown enemy for an unknown reason … That’s what’s happening here.
In addition to a mysterious war, the streets become a dangerous place where only the strongest can survive. Everyone else is killed and eaten. Yes, that’s right … Eaten. The world’s food supply is dwindling … Crops aren’t growing, fish are dying, etc. The government sets up rations, but the rations continue getting smaller and smaller. When people are starving, they’ll do pretty much anything to ensure survival … Including engaging in cannibalism.
The Wanting Seed is good, though certainly not the best book I’ve ever read. Parts of it drag along (especially the sections about the war), and Beatrice-Joanna is a poorly written female character. I don’t mind a character who can’t make up his/her mind with regard to love, but she was all, “Oh, Derek, I love you! I can’t live without you! Being with Tristram makes me sick!” and then later she randomly decides she loves Tristram and is like, “Oh, I made a mistake! Derek is nothing! You mean everything to me!” Just … No. I don’t even think this would have bothered me as much if there had been a reason for this change. But there isn’t. She literally just decides she still loves her husband while she’s at her sister’s house for no apparent reason. If the story wasn’t as interesting, I probably would never have given it a second read. I don’t think I liked it as much the second time around, but it wasn’t a complete waste of time or anything.
I rate The Wanting Seed THREE STARS. As I said, I liked it enough to reread it, but Burgess could have made a good book a great book with better characters and fewer war scenes. Though maybe I just don’t really like reading about war. For example, I also found the war scenes (which is basically all of Part Two) in Atonement incredibly boring. I actually started that book, stopped reading it about halfway through Part Two, and then picked it up and forced my way through the entire thing several months later.