COMPOSITE CREATURES by Caroline Hardaker (BOOK REVIEW)
Composite Creatures by Caroline Hardaker is a thought-provoking dystopian debut which continuously questions what it truly means to be alive in a dying world.
Over the years Earth has essentially become toxic, the soil and air has become contaminated, many species of wildlife and plants have become extinct, and sickness reigns through the human race cutting their lifespan far too short. Yet a beacon of hope emerges in the form of a medical institution called Eastern Grove, scientists cannot yet promise a cure, but they have found a way to prolong life. The only drawback is what will it cost?
The novel begins with our main protagonist Norah meeting a writer called Art, in a restaurant in London, on a seemingly ordinary awkward first date. As we slowly meander through Norah’s day to day life, things progress and we quickly learn that their relationship is far from a normal one. I think it’s fair to begin by saying if you’re expecting a fast paced read with plenty of shocking turn of events, then you’ll be sorely disappointed. Composite Creatures simply isn’t that kind of novel, however it is a remarkable window into the human psyche.
“In the bedroom mirror I looked like me and not like me. A dream version of me. All grown up now. I pressed a cold glass of water against my neck to cool the red petals of anxiety blooming up my throat.”
Through Hardaker’s first person narration we get an intimate look into Norah’s relationship with Art, her connection to Eastern Grove and their growing involvement in her life, we also witness her strained friendship with Eleanor, Rosie and Aubrey and how Nut, a mysterious creature akin to a cat, impacts her life. We learn of her childhood, and through her poignant memories of the times spent with her mother we envisage the world before it became toxic, of all the animals which roamed free but no longer exist. Her mother was a being of the past raising a child of a future where the very air was killing her breath by breath, and I appreciated Hardaker showing the toll that takes on both parties. There were moments where I felt perhaps the plot stalled too much, particularly during the middle section where Norah falls into a repetitive routine, nonetheless despite this I was always compelled to read on. Norah often appears fairly detached from people and the world at large, she’s never quite sure who loves her or even sure who she loves. She’s a character we can sympathise with, a character who I felt for, because she’s clearly vulnerable, lonely and extremely insecure.
“My idea of the natural world was a fairytale, based on the storybooks I read at school or the stretching cats in Mum’s paintings. She captured wild things amidst the slow tide of extinction. She looked over her shoulder as the planet moved forward.”
Hardaker’s prose is pensive, melancholic and lyrical. Each chapter swept me along on Norah’s journey, her growing need to connect with Art and her anxiety and dependency towards the creature Nut kept me turning the page, I found the mystery made it very hard for me to put the book down. I was particularly drawn to Hardaker’s exploration of ethics. Eastern Grove may boast of their success at prolonging life but it is only accessible to the wealthy, and their methods are more than questionable. Even those who can afford treatment soon realise the consequences of putting their lives in the hands of a corporation. In essence Eastern Grove is a corrupt institution playing God, and also exploiting lives to gain money and prestige. The way the novel reflects upon these subjects fascinated me, like many who live in Britain I have come to rely upon our NHS healthcare, but what if that became privatised, what if suddenly life-saving treatments were no longer affordable?
Although I haven’t read the book Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro, I have watched the film adaptation and I have to say that this book reminded me a lot of it. I feel they both share the uncomfortable themes of an institution deciding who lives and who dies, of your life never being in your control, of loving something or someone, watching them grow and then losing them. Of a life becoming something to be harvested rather than lived.
Composite Creatures is an engaging psychological read with an unsettling atmosphere. This isn’t my usual kind of read, but by the end I fully appreciated Hardaker‘s cleverly written novel where even the title reflects upon so much. We are all creatures made up of many parts, but which of those parts make us human?
“One day bleeds into the next, and though the tide washes in and out, it’s the same sea. You’ve plugged your toes in the sand. This beach isn’t going anywhere.”
ARC provided by Caroline Lambe at AngryRobot. Thank you for the copy! All quotes used are taken from an e-ARC and are subject to change upon publication.
Composite Creatures is released on April 13th but you can preorder it now!