Random Acts of Senseless Violence – Jack Womack

random acts of senseless violence cover

“Mama says mine is a night mind.”

Set in the near future, this 1993 book feels all too close to predicting some time in the next few years from 2018: society has collapsed, gangs and riots abound, the line between haves and have-nots slimmer than ever.

Given a diary for her twelfth birthday, Lola Hart undergoes a shocking transformation over the few months of the book’s narrative. The slide from middle class to life-threatening poverty is shockingly realistic: from being paid late to one bill you can’t pay, to any issue becoming a total catastrophe.

Lola’s diary entries go from complaining about her little sister and gossiping about her school friends, to her slow ostracization as those ‘friends’ react to the whiff of poverty about the family. She makes new friends, and the author is very clever in changing Lola’s style of speech slowly, until by the end it’s only as understandable as it is because the reader has had a slow introduction to the slang.

I could see this book cropping up on school syllabuses, if the violence and sexual content weren’t too shocking. It’s the kind of text that begs to be dissected, picked apart to uncover every nuance. At the same time the dystopia is chillingly plausible: riots in the street, city suburbs turning into no-go areas, brutal crackdown from on high, and through it all just hopelessness of ever being able to improve one’s situation.

So, yeah. Not a chipper read, but powerfully done.

Paperback: 256 pages
First published: 1993
Series: Dryco book 1
Read from 17th-25th July 2018

My rating: 8/10

The Handmaid’s Tale (season 1)

handmaids tale poster

It’s been well over a decade since I read Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale (and over 30 years since it was first published) but the power of the story stayed with me. It was enough to make me a little cautious about this adaptation, too: both for the usual reason (what if it’s not well done?) and just the feeling of not wanting to go into too dark a place with my viewing. I’m so so glad I gave this a go, though, as it’s one of the best bits of television from 2017!

Set in a not-too-distant future, attacks on America’s government have opened the way for a new regime: a back-to-basics, fundamentalist Christian one, with more than a few ideas that are very unsavoury. The Handmaids, for instance: faced with plummeting birth rates, fertile females are rounded up, tagged, and sent to breed with the most powerful men – whether they like it or not.

The Handmaid of the title is June (Elizabeth Moss, perhaps best known from Mad Men), who we follow as she is ‘placed’ in the home of Commander Waterford (Joseph Fiennes, Shakespeare in Love) and his wife (Yvonne Strahovski, formerly of Chuck), expected to produce a child for them. You’d perhaps think that she’d be well treated in between times, given the importance of her role, but she’s a prisoner and an object, and treated accordingly. Still, nothing quite as awful as is revealed in the flashbacks, explaining how this bizarre and awful regime not only gets started, but how on earth it can continue.

Although massively shocking, I think there’s actually a little less graphicness on the screen than there was in the books, which is a bit of a relief to be honest. That said, there is more than enough here to make anyone feel powerfully uncomfortable – and that’s kind of the point. The kicker for me wasn’t the horrendous treatment of women – not just the handmaids, but all the women – which I was expecting from reading the book, but that as the series progresses and we piece together all the flashbacks, that there is a perverse kind of logic in how this new political systems starts. Tying in things like climate change brings the whole thing more into the present day, only adding to the oomph factor.

Add in fantastic performances from the entire cast, high production values, and some amazing if un-flashy visuals, and this was just compelling from start to finish. It does end on a bit of a cliffhanger (as does the book, if I recall), but hurrah – we’re getting a second series! Bring it on!

First broadcast: May 2017
Series: 1 (renewed)
Episodes: 10 @ ~60 mins each

My rating: 9/10