||The Miracle Inspector by Helen Smith
A dystopian thriller set in the near future. England has been partitioned and London is an oppressive place where poetry has been forced underground, theatres and schools are shut, and women are not allowed to work outside the home. A young couple, Lucas and Angela, try to escape from London - with disastrous consequences.
Kindle US | UK | DE
Paperback US | UK | DE
The third of Smith's works to be reviewed on the site, The Miracle Inspector is by far her best. While the tone and style are indisputably hers, the storytelling takes a compelling turn that makes the book more absorptive than either Alison Wonderland or Being Light.
The tale begins with Lucas, a man whose job is to inspect whether or not reported "miracles" were indeed miraculous. As many might expect, his days are spent researching hoaxes, and while the occupation itself might seem a bit far-fetched, it makes complete sense in a society where people with a lot of passion and little logic took over the government. They have restricted women and children to their homes, limited transportation, and inserted civilian spies in true Orwellian fashion. The book is almost a sardonic commentary on the results of unchecked paranoia over pedophiles, rapists, and the dangers of free thought: we are safest when children, women, and philosophers are invisible or nonexistent in society at large.
As with any story that begins with confinement, the protagonists plot to escape. The result is a journey as bleak as those through the Underground Railroad or North Korean refugees — one aiming towards some glorified location and solely dependent upon a combination of luck and the trustworthiness of strangers. Smith is thorough in capturing the seeming hopelessness of it all without belaboring the point, referencing instead the weariness of the walkers and the meagerness of their rations. Instead of evoking pity, she elicits the reader's sympathy for the predicament of these refugees.
In her usual style, Smith starts with multiple story lines, linking them together loosely before tightening the connections. With fewer subplots than usual, however, The Miracle Inspector proves relatively easy to follow, and each of the seemingly disconnected tales is given the richness that they deserve. One is able to immerse oneself in each scene fully, instead of dabbling a bit before jumping to another part of London and another set of characters.
For the record, there was more explicit sexual content and violence than there were in either Alison Wonderland or Being Light. They bordered upon the limits of what I will willingly read at times but were just vague or brief enough to avoid overstepping my bounds. Given the content of magazines, comic books, and movies nowadays, the material might seem borderline tame, but the sensitive or conservative reader might still want to keep this in mind.
As with Being Light, there are deeper messages to be drawn from The Miracle Inspector if one is open to them. The philosophical arguments, ethical conflicts, and open-ended conclusion might just leave you wondering what exactly constitutes a "miracle" and if indeed one was finally found.
(Review copy provided by the author)