Book Review

The Waiting Rooms by Eve Smith

the waiting rooms

I’m sure that when Eve Smith was writing The Waiting Rooms it felt largely speculative.  Reading it during the COVID-19 pandemic, it feels strangely prophetic, with many of the measures that we’re following in lockdown having become the normal way of life in this brilliantly imagined future.

No one touches each other’s hands anymore.  Not unless they’re intimate.

Swinging from South Africa to England: one woman’s hunt for her birth mother in an all too believable near future in which an antibiotic crisis has decimated the population. A prescient, thrilling debut.

Decades of spiralling drug resistance have unleashed a global antibiotic crisis. Ordinary infections are untreatable, and a scratch from a pet can kill. A sacrifice is required to keep the majority safe: no one over seventy is allowed new antibiotics. The elderly are sent to hospitals nicknamed ‘The Waiting Rooms’… hospitals where no one ever gets well.

Twenty years after the crisis takes hold, Kate begins a search for her birth mother, armed only with her name and her age. As Kate unearths disturbing facts about her mother’s past, she puts her family in danger and risks losing everything. Because Kate is not the only secret that her mother is hiding. Someone else is looking for her, too.

Sweeping from an all-too-real modern Britain to a pre-crisis South Africa, The Waiting Rooms is epic in scope, richly populated with unforgettable characters, and a tense, haunting vision of a future that is only a few mutations away.

The Waiting Rooms is set in a near future world in which antibiotics have stopped working following years of misuse and increasing antimicrobial resistance.  As such, any new antibiotics that we’re been able to develop are reserved for those who will benefit most from them – the young, who will (hopefully) go on to lead long and fulfilling lives.  The elderly see out their days in the titular waiting rooms, and after the age of seventy, receive no antibiotic treatments at all, no matter what befalls them.  It’s a shocking vision of the future, made all the more so by the fact that it is an entirely plausible outcome.  We’ve overused and misused antibiotics so much that they are becoming less effective, and the cost and time it takes to develop new ones may mean that their use is restricted in the near future.  Only time will tell if we’re now doing enough to avoid ending up in a situation such as the one Smith has envisaged.

The Waiting Rooms is told from three perspectives, and while these are three very different characters, I found each of their narratives to be incredibly moving, and I loved seeing how they overlapped come the end of the novel.  Lily lives in a residential home and is rapidly approaching her 70th birthday.  This is no longer a cause for celebration, as it marks the milestone at which there is little hope should anything happen to her.  It’s Lily’s narrative that gives some of the more shocking detail about what the elderly face in this new world, and how the smallest incident can have a catastrophic effect on a person’s life.  There is also Kate, a nurse who, following the death of her adoptive mother, decides to seek out her birth mother.  It’s hard work at first as she has little information to go on, but this storyline line adds an exciting edge to the novel as we gradually learn more.  The third perspective used is that of Mary and is set in pre-crisis South Africa.  Mary is studying the use of plants in traditional medicine and looking at whether any of these remedies can be harnessed into a new drug.

While The Waiting Rooms is an excellent piece of speculative fiction, there is also an intriguing mystery lurking within its pages.  It’s a compelling read, and one that is eerily relevant in the current circumstances.  Eve Smith has absolutely nailed what a future world in which antibiotics are no longer working might look like.  I’m a big fan of dystopian fiction, and this ticked a lot of boxes for me, all the more so for being a very realistic and all too plausible future.  I loved it and can’t recommend it enough.

The Waiting Rooms is published by Orenda Books and is available to buy as an eBook now.  The paperback will be released on 9 July.

I enjoyed reading more about the antibiotic crisis, and Eve Smith has collated some fascinating material on her website to provide more information.  Do go and have a look if this is of interest to you.


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