A sinister government establishment, The Facility, has been opened in the Cornish countryside, the purpose of which is to receive a category of detainees who need to be isolated from the mass of the population for fear of contamination. The facility is staffed by Prison Service staff, assisted by a tough and unfeeling team of private security guards.
Arthur Priesley, a dentist from Ealing finds himself under interrogation in this 1984-type Facility, unsure what crime he is supposed to have committed but soon made aware that his sexuality is under question – despite the apparent uninterestingness of his life.
Meanwhile Arthur’s estranged wife Julia, armed with a grainy video of his arrest, consults investigative reporter Tom Clarke. Together they set off on a quest to find out what it is that the Facility is concerned with. It turns out that a new and deadly disease has appeared, like AIDS, only affecting gay-men, and requiring strict quarantine. The Facility has been created in an old-country house to intern the sufferers and also to enable medical experiments to be conducted on them so that a cure can be found.
I won’t go further into the plot – in some ways the book could be said to write itself for having created a mysterious government establishment and a couple of determined investigators the rest is inevitable. Much of the book is very well done, but perhaps having chosen this topic to write about, Simon Lelic got rather trapped by the formula with all its must-have features – government cover-ups, the moral dilemmas of a staff leading a team of brutal security guards, renegade doctors with wild ideas about a “cure” and a rag-bag of internees in various stages of a fatal illness. Poor Tom and Julia are met with non-cooperation at every turn as they try to find out what happened to Arthur, and when they eventually set out to try to find the facility, deep in the Cornish countryside, they find their own lives in danger.
I enjoyed reading the book, but it somehow didn’t surprise me, partly because I’ve read quite a few similar books before. I found the book’s style reminiscent of John Wyndham‘s books of the 1950s, but I was also strongly reminded of José Saramoga’s Blindness in which random people are suddenly struck with blindness and interned in a redundant mental institution under a vicious and authoritarian regime.
If you’ve read Blindness, you’re going to find The Facility a familiar place, but without Saramago’s in-depth and highly literate exploration of what it means to be interned with fellow sufferers of a dreadful medical condition. I’m afraid Blindness, tends to make The Facility seem a little run-of-the-mill in comparison. Lelic for example, gives us very little background about the mysterious illness which affects the inmates. Neither does he develop the characters of the sufferers or tell his readers much about their background or current state of mind. They are admitted, and later they die, but so much more could be said about life inside the facility. On the other hand, perhaps its unfair to compare Simon Lelic with Nobel Prize winner Saramago.
As I was reading The Facility, I couldn’t help but think of so many television series on similar themes – the young reporter challenging a government cover-up, aided by a grieving but beautiful relative of an innocent suspect. The Facility is just made for a four-part BBC drama series (where alas, it will seem just too much like quite a few series which have gone before).
I’ve been reading Hans Fallada’s Wolf Among Wolves, a massive two-part novel. I was reading it on the Kindle and its taken the best part of a week to read Part One. Its the longest book I’ve read on the Kindle and it takes 21 Kindle page turns to one percentage point (Kindle users will know what I mean).
I had previously read Fallada’s Alone in Berlin and Little Man What Now and appreciated Fallada’s unique 1930s Berlin voice telling folksy tales set in tortured settings. Wolf Among Wolves is a fantastic book, telling the stories of a wide cast of characters in the inflation-wrecked 1920s Weimar Republic.
Its a long read but one of those books you just know you’ve got to finish. When I’ve read Part 2 I’ll deal with it in more-depth, but in the meantime, if anyone is looking for a funny yet tragic human drama mixing soap opera and social commentary this is one to watch out for.
While mentioning the Kindle, users might find it worthwhile downloading version 3.1 of the software. This brings back correlation of Kindle pages with real pages. Each e-book has to be prepared especially for this, but 1000 have been done so far and means that if you are using your Kindle in a reading group for example, you can turn to the same page numbers as those who are reading paper versions of the book.
I found upgrading the operating system quite scary. The Kindle took quite a few minutes to sort itself out and seemed to go to sleep from time to time – I guess its important not to fiddle with it while this process is taking place. However, it eventually comes back and all seemed to be well.
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