Pressia barely remembers the Detonations or much about life during the Before. In her sleeping cabinet behind the rubble of an old barbershop where she lives with her grandfather, she thinks about what is lost-how the world went from amusement parks, movie theaters, birthday parties, fathers and mothers . . . to ash and dust, scars, permanent burns, and fused, damaged bodies. And now, at an age when everyone is required to turn themselves over to the militia to either be trained as a soldier or, if they are too damaged and weak, to be used as live targets, Pressia can no longer pretend to be small. Pressia is on the run.
Burn a Pure and Breathe the Ash . . .
The book blogosphere seems to be lighting up with apocalyptic explosions and revelling in the aftermath at the moment. After reading the amazing Divergent by Veronica Roth, I started keeping one eye on the many emerging dystopian tales, in case something equally amazing that I could devour and then rave about.
Along came Pure; dystopian fiction the adult way. I've seen whisperings that this book is intended to straddle the YA/Adult divide. For me, this was well and truly in the grown-up camp. The world is bleak and the story is tragic and barbaric, not to mention gory.
Most of the survivors of the Detonations have horrific burn scars or have been 'fused' with items or creatures that they were holding or near at the time. Pressia was holding her doll at the time of the Detonation and now lives with her doll's head for a hand while Bradwell (who was running through a field) has birds embedded in his back. Seriously dark stuff but morbidly clever. There are a whole army of novels that focus on the cleaner side of world-changing disasters, whether its years down the line after the dust has settled and society re-established or by looking inside the Dome at how that society should be rebuilt. The idea that society might still exist, albeit damaged almost beyond recognition, is original and chilling. Maybe that's why I resented the chapters where I was forced to follow Lyra (a Pure) in the Dome. The sterilised world interrupted the atmosphere that had gradually been built and, despite being a remarkable contrast, slowed the pace even further.
The images that were so unique at the beginning soon became laboured. Every time a new character or set of characters are introduced, they are accompanied by a graphic account of their various mutations. Objectively, I could see that the survivors are defined by their scars and 'wear them' as badges of honour, marks of their will to endure. Subjectively, I started to see it as gratuitous. The descriptions are increasingly terrible and have a whiff of shock tactics lingering about them. One particular group of women are fused to the babies that they were trying to protect during the Detonations. So, yes, it's clever but it's also emotionally draining and hard to read. A job well done for Ms Baggott, I suppose.
The characters are strange. Pressia is determined, strong, intelligent and fiercely loyal. I should have adored her. Similarly Partridge, running from the Dome and in search of family, is disarmingly innocent and charming and I wanted to like him. The problem is that the characters are lost in the midst of the horror and dirt of the world they inhabit and it's hard to bond with them and, ultimately, care about their fates. The constantly switching narrative is probably also partly to blame for the general feeling of detachment. Each chapter is told from a different character's perspective, including Pressia, Partridge and Lyra to name but a few. It's good to see the world from a number of views but it's hard to build a relationship with a narrator that you might not hear from for another 100 pages.
Despite not enjoying reading Pure that much, I can appreciate that it was beautifully written. Baggott's ability to design and describe a broken world is immense and her descriptions are stunning. Devastatingly so. If you do read this and are feeling resilient, there are some great passages.
After a dramatic start, this book became a serious slog. It's crazy that a book so arguably action-packed could seem so slow and be such terribly hard work. And yet, after 100 pages or so, every time I picked it up it was just to get it read, rather than to enjoy reading it. I kept hoping that I would pass a point where I would be swept into the story and get carried through to the end. Sadly, I never found that point. For that reason, and despite all of its virtues, I would only really recommend this to someone with the time to amble their way through a horrifying vision of a world almost without humanity. If you're looking for a fast-paced read, this one certainly isn't for you.
Overall: This seems to be a book that you either love or hate and I've read as many positive reviews as I have negative. For me, it was a brilliant idea executed in a style that didn't seem to fit its subject matter. Elegantly told but somewhat excruciating to read (for more than one reason) and part of a series I can't see myself reading any more of.
Date finished: 16 January 2012
Genre: Dystopian fiction
Published: by Grand Central Publishing in February 2012