From here on, I’ve decided to start posting full, individual reviews on my blog, rather than just combined wrap ups. But without further ado, here are some thoughts on my most recent read.
XX by Angela Chadwick
Published by Dialogue Books, 2018
My rating: ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐
XX follows Jules and Rosie as they become the world’s first participants in a new clinical trial that will allow two women to conceive a child, using ovum-to-ovum fertilisation. Hailed by some as a breakthrough for queer couples, others see it as a catalyst for a vast population shift – as, given the genetics involved, the technique can only produce baby girls. Set against a backdrop of fierce political backlash, and media scaremongering, the couple must contend with a tirade of hatred, paranoia, and betrayal, alongside the usual fears that come with looming parenthood.
This is the best kind of speculative fiction, in that the scientific elements of the story feel only just out of reach. The political and social landscape could have been lifted from today’s newspapers; the breakthrough in fertility treatment one that may well be on the horizon. It makes the book’s musings on the morality involved in science versus nature, and the role of the media in shaping the public’s perception all the more topical. I also like that the argument as to whether this advancement is leading us towards a utopia or a dystopia is entirely open to debate.
For all the big questions raised by the subject matter, however, I was pleased that it finds time for an insular look at the central couple’s relationship. This allowed Chadwick to bring a further layer of depth to the narrative, exploring the idea of class divides. Jules, a local journalist, has grafted her entire life to work her way up from poor beginnings, whilst Rosie was born into a decidedly more privileged family. Despite being liberal in their social views, it becomes increasingly clear that both possess their own inherent prejudices against the other’s class, and feel an odd sense of loyalty to their own; a friction that no amount of love or social-ladder climbing can ever fully erase.
Given that this is, in many ways, a book about yearning for parenthood, it was refreshing to see some discussion on the pressure that women feel to become a mother, even if it’s not necessarily what they want. There is, however, a slight whisper of the ‘you just don’t get it until you have kids’ attitude, which can be patronising. Though, I suppose that’s to be expected given the topic at hand, and the circumstances/outlook of certain characters. My other small gripes are an overly neat epilogue that I’m not sure was necessary, and a nod towards the melodramatic at times, with someone holding back tears on just about every other page (a repetition that I feel an editor should have flagged up).
This is an altogether timely and thought-provoking, though surprisingly subtle, character driven story that ultimately asks us to consider what makes a family, and if our beginnings (from where we are born, to our very DNA) truly shape the person we are. I flew through this, and would love to hear other people’s thoughts on it.
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