Review: Mockingbird

Book review
Written by Walter Tevis
Gollancz paperback
Out now

In the future, mankind exists in a drugged, docile state, and nobody has given birth in many years. But, along with a despair-filled robot and a woman who lives in a reptile house, a ‘reader’ named Bentley manages to unlock long-forgotten human experiences…

The underrated Walter Tevis is best remembered for the novels The Hustler and The Man Who Fell to Earth, though these titles are now more famous for their movie incarnations. Mockingbird is one of Tevis’s last novels, published in 1980, four years before his death, and was written after a long spell in alcoholic exile. It is, however, another sterling entry into Gollancz’s excellent SF Masterworks series.

It’s a literate and heartfelt tale in the tradition of Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451 or Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World. Like those impassioned attacks on a culture of passivity, Mockingbird grapples with universal concerns about freedom and art, and should appeal to a broad readership. Less a paranoid android thriller than a celebration of human experience, it takes in love, sadness, poetry, music and whiskey.

“New York is nearly a grave. The Empire State Building is its gravestone,” Tevis tells us at one point, and he depicts a bleak world where ‘moron robots’ man burger joints and the remaining, drugged-up humans would rather set themselves on fire than carry on living. But Tevis also offers hope in his protagonists’ journeys of self-discovery and their eventual attempt to save the human race. “My God, the world is beautiful,” Bentley declares as he looks out at the grey ocean, and it’s a sentiment that echoes throughout the book.

Matt McAllister

VERDICT: 9/10
A life-affirming meditation on what it means to be human.

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