Gollancz, out now UK; Titan, out now US
Toby and Clara invite you to read their story…
The Death House – the place where youngsters are sent if blood tests show that they are carrying something inimical to the future of mankind. And that’s all you really need to know about the set up for the story; sure, Pinborough drops a few hints along the way about the Defectives, but it really is the MacGuffinest of MacGuffins – of life-or-death importance to the characters in the story, but not to us, save that we know that there can only be one ending to the tale.
But, as the story makes clear, that applies to all of us. It’s not necessarily the manner of your death that counts, but the way in which you lead your life. Toby and Clara come from different worlds, and their paths wouldn’t have crossed but for their presence in the Death House. But they do find each other, and cram a lifetime of experiences into their short time together. And you realise that there are many ways that that “one ending” can happen.
It’s a short novel, but Pinborough doesn’t waste a word of it, recreating that period of teenage life when new experiences give you a taste of the adult world without the responsibility that drags us down as we get older. She puts us inside the head of the teenage Toby effortlessly (well that’s how it feels reading it, but clearly that’s not the case!) with certain turns of phrase and reminders of insecurities that made me feel as if my mind was being read from 35 years ago!
Pinborough’s The Language of Dying was one of the most moving books I read last year, finding words for emotions that we all experience but rarely express. Reviewing that, I said that I hoped she would indulge in another character-based story before too long. This is that work, an even more powerful read, and one I’m sure that many will follow my example in going straight back to rereading as soon as they’ve finished, just to spend a little more time with the central characters.
Verdict: Death becomes her – Sarah Pinborough’s most powerful work to date. 10/10