‘What with so many public service vehicles being hijacked during the travel crisis, but I think they were more concerned for the protection of government property.’
A dystopian novel
These Unnatural Men (TUM) was not the novel I was expecting. Many, but not all, dystopian novels I’ve read are influenced by cataclysmic events occurring during the novel itself, whereas in TUM the characters are already trapped by past circumstances, so it falls into the ‘trapped dystopia’ category in my mind. TUM was character based. I found this style refreshing and new, taking the reader out of the tried-and-tested formulas for dystopia, and what’s marvellous is that it also plays with the reader’s mind, dipping into preconceived notions of psychiatric institutes and blending them with a euthanasia focus.
Nieve Hindeman is the protagonist, an up-and-coming euthanasist bent on advancing her career at Boar House and doing euthanasia the right way. She’s very much a product of the present in TUM, but a more extreme version who wants to prove her theory to hope it will change euthanasia for the better. She’s not a ‘doctor’, as the patients still get confused what to call them; I liked this link to the past. Her character was fascinating and disturbing.
And though I disliked Nieve’s cruelty, zealous approach, nosiness, and her blatant disrespect of privacy, I came to feel sorry for her at times when flashbacks were given into her past and when older characters criticised her lack of knowledge of the real world. It’s as if she was groomed to be a euthanasist and she’s as trapped as the patients are: ‘You should have applied and received your civilian money by now, but if you haven’t you can borrow some from the petty cash box.’
Author EJ Babb did expand well on the rigorous assessment process for acceptance into the euthanasia program. There is a lot of red tape preventing cases from going forward, and by the time the patient is through with all these tests, like David, they’re impatient and they just want to die.
The character Logue and his dynamic with Nieve was worth reading:
‘Logue smiled at her – a rarely seen expression on him. It made his big, droopy eyes shrink inwards as the folds on his face bunched together. He looked subhuman, almost lizard-like.’
‘His watery eyes were boarded with prominent blood vessels and his thin top lip curled inward as he spoke. “Everyone has secrets.”’
I’d like to have learnt more about what had happened in the past, what this travel crisis was, and to delve deeper into the technologies used at Boar House for the purpose of euthanasia beyond a particular drug.
David, Nieve’s case, was intentionally boring, and the point was hammered home how little of his true reasons for being at Boar House was divulged. It makes the reader wonder, is it David who’s not forthcoming or is Nieve imagining things from too much pressure? He wasn’t interesting after the beginning and the story, true to its form, was more about Nieve.
TUM was a novel that kept me reading. I wanted to know what Nieve would discover to be the truth and I wanted to know what sort of character she was. Page after page we learn about the fictitious dystopian world author EJ Babb has created, and even after finishing you still feel you want to learn more.