Blue Ticket by Sophie Mackintosh
Published by Hamish Hamilton, 2020
Rating: ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐
I’m not surprised to see that this attracted mixed reviews, my own opinion having changed multiple times throughout my time with it. Though not stated explicitly, it’s presumably set in a near-future Britain. On the day of their first period, all girls are allocated one of two tickets – white or blue – before being sent out into the world to fend for themselves. Having been monitored throughout their childhoods, the tickets dictate their fate: white ticket girls will marry and become mothers, while blue ticket girls are forbidden from conceiving. Calla, our narrator, was allocated a blue ticket, and though she doesn’t fully understand the strange, animal urges she feels, she longs to have a child of her own.
Despite how promising this setup sounds, the novel falls flat when taken as speculative dystopia. This is due to the undeniable contradictions and lapses in logic where the scant world-building is concerned. I’m fully on board with authors not spoon feeding everything to their readers, but the complete lack of context for the society we find here feels less like a writer leaving things open to interpretation, and more like her not having the answers herself.
Initially, I found this frustrating, but I was soon able to suspend my disbelief, swept up by the book’s many merits. When taking the setup less as genuine dystopian fiction and more as Mackintosh’s in to explore the policing of women’s bodies, freewill, motherhood, and desire, the novel becomes far more successful. I was pleased to see its social commentary become increasingly nuanced as the narrative progressed, assuaging several of my initial reservations. This includes exploration of the equally valid desire for women not to have children; the intersection of motherhood and queerness; the complexity of achieving true autonomy when parenthood is in many ways the ultimate sacrifice of independence; and the difficulty of forming a united front against patriarchal systems when they exist to turn women against each other.
It’s definitely more binary than it could have been in its look at gender as a whole, but Calla is a fascinating heroine; her story at once thrilling and full of psychological insight. Mackintosh’s prose is another highlight, beautiful despite the clinical air of numbness she establishes in Calla. She uses this skill to create a tone that is almost fable-esque, full of claustrophobic tension that swells towards inevitable tragedy.
I’m intrigued to see how my feelings about this one develop over time. Though it was undoubtedly flawed in its construction (particularly when viewed as a genre piece), it offered one of the most compelling reading experiences I’ve had for a while, cementing Mackintosh as one of my must-buy authors.