Through the voices of three characters caught up in a nightmarish world that seemingly is the one we live in but somehow has evolved into an England with an all-powerful home secretary we are introduced to ‘the facility’. The book starts with Arthur, a dentist who has recently separated from his wife Julia, and who is undergoing an interrogation by two foul characters, guards, who insinuate that as he is gay he might just as well admit to being gay and having had a relationship with a particular man who has identified him. Then the tale shifts to Tom Clarke, a journalist who is approached by Julia and subsequently becomes drawn into the fate of Arthur, Julia, their son and all the ‘patients’ held in the facility as well as Graves, who is in charge. By shifting perspectives between Arthur, Gray and Tom we learn that this is an England with a political framework that is very like the one we have now, only politicians appear to have a lot more power and are able to cover up what they are doing to ‘protect’ the people from an infectious disease that is like Aids, although it is not Aids: it is a lethal new disease.
Somehow I could never quite believe that what we have here is a real dystopia, that this was a believable ‘alternative world’, as for example Orwell’s 1984 was or The Road by Cormac McCarthy, or even say Ballard’s The Drowned World. Lelic’s is more a tale of a conspiracy theory: the belief that government will imprison its own people in a kind of Guantanamo Bay and once there will be forgotten about. No one will even know they are there.
Nevertheless, the story also wants us to believe that there is still a free press, that journalists will simply accept the home secretary’s word for it that the inmates are a danger to the rest of society and that in fact the press is not at all interested in what happens to them. Because they are homosexuals (purportedly), because they are debauched? Some of it is just too farfetched, especially now that we have for example the Leveson inquiry here in England: the press will do whatever it can to find ‘the story’ and it simply is not believable that they would not try very hard to get behind the goings on in ‘the facility’.
The book is quite a good read as far as plot and characters are concerned – but I just could not believe that this might really happen!