Jane Rogers, The testament of Jessie Lamb, Cannongate Books, 2012.
Reading The testament of Jessie Lamb was quite an experience: the teenager I was and who still exists in a corner of my head and the adult that I am were spending their time arguing about the book.
In a very near future, MDS (Maternal Death Syndrom) decimate all the pregnant women. It's not possible to have children anymore and humanity is now facing its own extinction.
The first person narrator is Jessie, a teenager who is like any and every teenager: often shallow and egotistic, blaming the adults for everything.
But the first few pages of the novel are about Jessie, prisoner of a man, tied to a radiator, in an empty house.
Slowly, Jessie tells us how she came to be here, how MDS changed her life, the world and her place in it.
It is not exactly an apocalypse novel: yes, there's an apocalypse as the human race faces extinction and pregnant women die, but it's more the backdrop and what starts the story. The novel is actually about Jessie's journey, how she turns from being your average teenager to a teenager who feels she has a mission.
And this is what made me react so much...
"Jessie is so right! She goes for the absolute and she goes right to the end! And she finds her place in this world while doing something about it! is enthusiastically shouting my teenage self.
- Are you crazy? She's 16, what she chooses will almost certainly lead her to her death and she not even once thinks about the consequences for her family. And if you slightly tweak the story, you could be reading the story of how a teenager could end up in a sect or a terrorist organisation!" replies my adult self, a bit worried by my teenage self's reaction.
The testament of Jessie Lamb is a morally complex novel. It's also a story that describes beautifully teenagehood and its idealism. This realism has a consequence: the writing may feel pretty flat, though it is by design, but at other times, it soars.
It's definitely not a novel you'd pick for an entertaining moment, but it's a novel that won't leave you indifferent.
The Testament of Jessie Lamb won the Arthur C. Clarke Award in 2012.
The author's website.
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