Happy publication day to Rachel Heng whose debut novel, Suicide Club, is published today! As you’re probably aware, I love a dystopian novel, and I was thrilled when my request to read Suicide Club via Netgalley was approved by the publisher.
What are you doing to help yourself? What are you doing to show that you’re worth the resources?
In a near-future world, medical technology has progressed far enough that immortality is now within grasp – but only to those who show themselves to be deserving of it. These people are the lifers: the exercisers, yogacisers, green juicers and early nighters.
Genetically perfect, healthy and wholesome, one hundred-year-old Lea is the poster girl for lifers, until the day she catches a glimpse of her father in the street, eighty-eight years after their last encounter. While pursuing him, Lea has a brush with death which sparks suspicions. If Lea could be so careless, is she worthy of immortality?
Suicide Club wasn’t always an activist group. It began as a set of disillusioned lifers, gathering to indulge in forbidden activities: performances of live music, artery-clogging meals, irresponsible orgies. But now they have been branded terrorists and are hunted by the state.
And Lea has decided to give them a call.
On the surface of it, there are many elements of the world in which Suicide Club is set that appeal. Longer life spans, and with the technology to prevent and repair the wear and tear on our bodies, people can actually enjoy those extra years to the full, retaining their good looks and youthful vigour. Work is strictly 9 ‘til 5, any longer hours seen as being stress-inducing and counter-productive to society. It’s sounds ideal. But dig a little a deeper, and, as with all great dystopian fiction, you find the price that people have had to pay to achieve this might outweigh the benefits. Meat, alcohol, and sugar (even those naturally occurring in fruit) are all restricted if not banned outright, and real food is prepared less and less often with people often relying on nutritionally balanced “nutripaks” instead of trad(itional) cooking for sustenance. There are restrictions on music, and oh so many directives to protect ourselves from any kind of potential damage. This is a society that stops just short of literally wrapping its people in cotton wool, and I wonder whether all those extra years are worth it if you can’t enjoy all of the things that you might like to do.
At the outset of the novel, Lea is a model citizen. She is healthy, exercises regularly, and takes care of herself in all of the prescribed ways (and there are MANY prescribed ways to take care of yourself). Successful, she is being considered for promotion at work, and will be eligible for true immortality, rather than just long life, once available. The only slight blip on her record is her father who left years ago and who is now considered “antisanct” or non-lifeloving – just about the worst thing you can be in this world. But a small incident puts her on a watch list as someone with potential suicidal tendencies, and Lea’s eyes are opened to the realities of the world she lives in. In some ways, Lea’s character is quite a difficult one, and I struggled to like her as I found her to be selfish, proud, and dismissive of others, although she is very much a product of her environment in this respect. She is fascinating though, particularly as the reader gets to know more about her past, and the story was thoroughly engaging even if I didn’t love Lea’s character immediately.
With people living longer, there might be concerns around overall population figures and overcrowding, but in Suicide Club, the population figures are dwindling due to falling birth rates. Why the birth rates were falling, and why the population was reducing so drastically wasn’t fully explored, and I would have liked to have understood this element of the world more fully. There are a distinct lack of children in the novel, and I expect that with people living longer, they are able to put off having children for some time, focussing on their careers, friends, social lives etc. with having a family something to consider further down the line.
And then there’s suicide, which is the antithesis to this society. With the technological advancements that enable us to live longer, it has become increasingly difficult to end your own life should you wish to do so. Technology such as DiamondSkinTM (making our skin impervious to damage and healing rapidly) and SmartBloodTM protect us not only from our environment and those that would cause us harm, but also from ourselves. Whilst this could be considered a good thing, for those who don’t want to live forever, having immortality forced upon them is unpalatable, and some are willing to resort to drastic measures to avoid this fate. Of course, the Ministry – the mysterious power behind it all – don’t care about this. What they care about are the population figures, which suicide reduces further.
There are certain elements of dystopian novels that I always look out for, and one of those is a class structure. I like to see how authors use the world they’ve developed to set some apart from others, and Heng does this really well in Suicide Club with life expectancy being the key differentiator. At birth, everyone is given their number – their life expectancy, based upon their genetic make-up. For people like Lea – “lifers” with significant age spans – it’s a ticket to the upper echelons of society, as opposed to the “sub 100s”. I thought that this element of the novel was done brilliantly, and it works so well, with the lifers largely ignoring those beneath them, and everyone else feeling subservient to these near perfect beings.
I thoroughly enjoyed Suicide Club, and I loved the world in which it’s set and the way that Heng brought this to life. The technological advancements sound wonderful in many ways, although how these are used would need to be considered carefully should such things come to pass. This is a dark novel, and one that I highly recommended.
Suicide Club is published today (10 July) by Sceptre. Many thanks to the publisher for the opportunity to read this title ahead of publication via Netgalley.
Rating: ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐