The Ship by Antonia Honeywell
I read this book alongside a collection of Orwell’s letters, and it got me thinking at first that this would be another 1984. It sort of is in parts, but it is also a study of how armageddon affects one single family in heartbreaking detail, and it is also bang up to date. No mention of iPads here, but everyone has a number of ‘screens’ which they seem to waste a lot of time looking at. These are similar to the screens which are used in 1984 to control the population, but these updated models are held in the hand and travel everywhere their owners go.
The Ship is set in the near future, and starts in London in the British Museum. The museum and its neighbourhood are an important link with sanity and her childhood for Lalage Paul, known mostly as Lalla. There is enough detail about some of the artefacts to know that it’s quite important to this debut author too. It soon emerges that Lalla’s parents, Sarah and Michael, are making audacious plans to leave this cruel city and make a better life overseas. Beyond that, I’d rather not say too much about the plot. It is strong and maintains momentum, and will push you along nicely in a summer breeze all the way to the end.
Since finishing this book I have found some debate about the target audience. Well, it didn’t occur to me for a second that this was a YA book. Surely the very best books appeal to many age groups, male and female alike. And this one does. Not quite as ambitious as Station Eleven, which I have seen it compared to, but in some ways all the better for it. A concentrated, conicse study of what a corrupt government and difficult circumstances can mean for family life. Yet written in a way that appeals to the male reader too: there is enough puzzle and riddle here, and the men are just as strong and complex as the women.