The Waiting Rooms by Eve Smith.
Normally I would wait for the paperback release but I really thought you might want to know about this title available as an eBook now:
Eventually the Crisis came and nothing ever returned to normal:
‘Twenty years after they were imposed, emergency border controls and trade embargoes will remain in place for the thirteen countries who do not yet meet the international health risk standards…’
In The Waiting Rooms everyone in the post Crisis world lives in fear. The world has become a very dangerous place, antibiotics are rationed and no one over seventy is eligible, a simple injury or infection could spell death. A few mutations, an uncontrollable pandemic and this future could become a reality.
This novel might have been a greater feat of imagination for readers if it weren’t for the real tragedy of Covid-19 and the lock-down which has revealed just how different our world could become in a very short space to time. If ever a book hit the zeitgeist it’s this one. A few months ago I could imagine readers enjoying The Waiting Rooms but seeing it as pure fiction rather than possible reality. Reading The Waiting Rooms is very different experience now, this dystopian world isn’t far fetched at all, it’s scarily plausible! Covid-19 shows how prescient and grounded this novel is.
What happens if antibiotics no longer work? The possibility is very real, it’s a problem that is slowly being addressed recently after years, if not decades, of medical science and governments burying their heads in the sand. Eve Smith has used this urgent debate as a catalyst for a gripping ‘what if?’ scenario that will chill your bones as you read:
“No one touches each other’s hands anymore. Not unless they’re intimate.”
The Crisis, twenty years on. Kate takes a call from one of the nurses, they often refer the difficult ones to her, number fourteen is due to die today, he signed the assisted dying release, his daughter knows that but she’s distraught. She and her husband reason, beg and plead but her father has T4 cancer, it registers nine on the Gleason scale, he will die in any case. James Casey will want his daughter in the peace chamber, he’ll want a calm death. The drug is Whisky flavoured, he passes.
Lily will be seventy soon, she lives in a care home. For her there will be no antibiotics under draconian laws and there’s no sign that will change, even so long after the Crisis. There are protests, of course, some say it’s genocide of the elderly, then there’s Equality Above All, terrorists? Lily walks in the gardens, she sees one of the residents being taken away in an ambulance, they won’t be coming back.
It’s a brave decision to have a child post Crisis; a risky time for the mother and the early years of any child are fraught with dangers. Kate and Mark have Sasha. Kate was adopted, she hasn’t thought much about her birth mother but now that they are burying Pen, the woman who brought her up. Kate has to tell her daughter Sasha as she goes searching for her own mother Mary.
Twenty-seven years before the Crisis, South Africa. Mary manages to nearly get herself killed by a Rhino before scuttling up a Marula tree. An angry Boer starts shouting at her about her recklessness but it’s the beginning of a relationship between the two. Mary is a scientist, more than ever they need people like her in this continent. Diseases long since eradicated in Europe and America are coming back with a vengeance in Africa, it won’t end there:
‘As the TB death toll tops twenty thousand, the prime minister urges people to obey curfews and remain in their homes.’ [during the initial Crisis]
The Waiting Rooms is such a good title, it sounds innocuous, conjures up images of boredom, and is so typical of the human need to hide the real meaning of something terrible, as if that normalises it. The use of language in the novel is very clever. Smith creates two fascinating time lines, pre and post Crisis. The characters and their personal stories are emotional and very relatable. This is a novel set in an extraordinary landscape, dystopian and frightening but it deals with age old issues of grief and loss, even euthanasia and most of all what makes us human. I don’t accept the premise that people want fluff in times of crisis, personally I want real and I want challenging. This novel is dark and may make you uncomfortable but there are some essential truths best not ignored.
Orenda Books, paperback, July. Isbn 9781913193263, available as eBook now.