Book Review

The Method by Juli Zeh translated by Sally-Ann Spencer

Mia Holl lives in a state governed by The Method, where good health is the highest duty of the citizen. Everyone must submit medical data and sleep records to the authorities on a monthly basis, and regular exercise is mandatory.

Mia is young and beautiful, a successful scientist who is outwardly obedient but with an intellect that marks her as subversive. Convinced that her brother has been wrongfully convicted of a terrible crime, Mia comes up against the full force of a regime determined to control every aspect of its citizens’ lives.

The Method was first published in 2009 in Germany and was translated into English by Sally-Ann Spencer in 2012, published in the UK by Vintage.

Set in the near future, The Method is a dystopian novel in which a person’s health is paramount.  Exercise is mandatory, and data are submitted to the authorities on a regular basis to ensure that people are taking care of themselves.  Failure to share one’s data or to deviate from The Method is considered a crime.  I really like this concept.  It’s a nanny state taken to extremes, and it’s easy to imagine how such a society might come about with our propensity for fitness trackers and similar devices, with the propaganda based upon improving everyone’s live and ensuring that its citizens are healthy.  And people would buy into it, because no one WANTS to be sick, do they?  And to be fair, it doesn’t sound all bad.  Pain and illness have been eliminated and that sounds like it can only be a good thing.  And yet, there’s still that element of control that – once you start to think about it – would be too much, particularly as your data are poured over to ensure your compliance. 

The main protagonist is Mia Holl, a scientist who follows The Method without really questioning it.  That is until her brother, Moritz, is convicted of a heinous crime and subsequently takes his own life.  Their background is told through Mia’s flashbacks, and it’s clear that the two were close, despite the sibling bickering that occurs when they’re together.  Moritz does question The Method, and essentially believes Mia to be a sheep for blindly doing as she’s told.  Following Moritz’s death Mia is, understandably, distraught, and stops following The Method.  I don’t believe that this is out of a sense of rebellion against the system, but is more out of grief at the loss of her brother.  It’s enough to bring her the attention of the authorities, however, who try to steer her back on to the right path, gently at first but becoming more forceful as she continues to reject The Method with her subversion eventually landing her in court.

While I like the concept of the novel, I would have liked to have seen Mia purposefully choose which side she is on.  Instead – and maybe this is just my reading of the novel – she seems to be caught up in the machinations of others and has little agency of her own, becoming something of a figurehead of the opponents to The Method without ever meeting them or knowing if they truly exist.  I would have liked her to meet with this group, if only to understand their arguments against The Method and if and how they intend to subvert the authoritarian regime.   Her lawyer, Rosentreter, has a bone to pick with the authorities, and so doesn’t seem to have her best interests at heart, instead using her case and that of her brother to pursue his own agenda.  It emphasises to me that Mia is simply a pawn in a larger game – perhaps naturally given the dystopian nature of the novel – but I would have liked her to make some deliberate choices.

Additionally, there was an element to The Method that didn’t work for me although it’s very much a case of personal preference.  Mia, in her grief, talks to an imaginary individual called the ideal inamorata (a female lover – I had to look it up!), even in front of others who are confused by her behaviour.  Is this meant to raise questions around Mia’s mental state, giving the authorities another reason to investigate her behaviour?  I took it to be a manifestation of her guilt and conscience, and it does cause her to question the society in which she lives.  The ideal inamorata seems to represent Moritz’s views, which Mia only gives serious consideration to after his death.  So, I can see a purpose behind this, but it just didn’t work for me.

Overall, I like the concept of The Method, but it’s not a novel that I can say that I loved.  I wanted to see more of the counterarguments to a society that promotes health above all else, beyond the objection to the rigorous controls placed on its individuals.  That said, there are some nice developments in the novel, and it’s a fascinating and original take on a dystopian society. It’s one that fans of 1984 may enjoy.    


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