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Outwalkers - review

A superb dystopian  novel of almost now Britain, or maybe more specifically England.

This book is brilliant, partly because it's told in a very clever way, partly because what is told is also very clever, but mostly because it feels real.

So many books have a great premise and characters you root for, things always happen that basically wouldn't - just to make it more dramatic, what Fiona does best is make drama happen out of what would happen and make it as real as possible.

She has set this post Brexit, probably about 30 or 40 yrs on... there are a few flashes of clever irony with film posters in a tube station.

The subtle yet brutal way she has taken a Big Brother and made it a Coalition who is supposedly with us 'from cradle to grave', will always feed us and help us through life... is as brilliant as it could be.

She keeps us very close to what happens, observing it in a sort of 2nd meets 3rd person style, at first the lack of punctuation for speech felt weird, but after a few pages you are sucked in and it paces the book with real immediacy.

She layers so much about 'life now' in, changes are subtle rather than so far fetched that they would make you think, really?

We all only have cash on a mobile, we all have an Identity chip, even the Royals... 

The brainwashing and Soviet style society are really compelling ideas, we all work for one good, we work in Fracking and Picking like immigrant low paid workers have done for the last 30 years... The Class divide is wider, but with subversion  the lower class have no choice and are just subjugated into compliance.

Messages about division, food waste, punishment, politics and much more are weaved ever so subtly in as otherwise it'd be a polemic and this needs to be a gripping page-turning adventure, one you can think about and go back to when you have time, I feel it would be a superb class book but would need to be done over a longish time, it's not a long boring book, but it is a long interesting book and sadly so little time is available for schools and some children even at 13+ as it is technically a YA are just not as glued to continuous reading as maybe they would be if they did more and less screen.

But the other issues of loss, rules mattering, friendship, endurance, resilience and love are all conquering.

So, we have Jake and Jet, they've been apart because he goes to a grim Victorian style 'Home Academy' what a creation!
His parents were scientists who were working on a vaccine for the 'virus' the thing that keeps us together because if we stray into the countryside we will catch it and die. Only, his parents took him for many long walks and they were all ok...

He is determined to get to Scotland from Frenchay area in Gloucestershire and will have to do it by walking and avoiding the constant CCTV, the 'hubbers' and others (bona fides) generally, the best thing about the narration is that once we have the other Outwalkers we are constantly seeing things from six perspectives mostly together but when apart there is still a feeling of the gang being united.

We have Poacher and Swift, they are the elder members, Swift has her young sister Cass, mostly mute but always important. A central embodiment of love and togetherness. Ollie with his Italian cookery skills but no pasta, Davie with his behavioural tics and Martha the healer.
All have reality and are drawn by a set of simple rules, mainly be careful and stick together, strength in numbers, but as the past indicates, break rules and you are gone. We find out there are signs and the most important one is a circle with a dot, it perhaps unifies them that others have gone before them and you would imagine got there.

There is a heavily guarded wall- 'The New One' akin to Hadrian's one but manned and armed and seemingly impenetrable, but over the other side, in Scotland apparently all is as we would want it to be... but we aren't allowed there...the Govt says so and we all must do as we are told... 

They must stay out of sight, avoid being seen in towns when they go for only what they need, they are ever resourceful and as they are basically tramping along the sides of roads in hedgerows it is not pleasant, there are few safe places but there is a duty of care for any that are about, it's all very cleverly done.

Fiona has obviously been thinking a lot, applying it to this masterpiece in a blisteringly brutal way, it's very easy to understand what goes on, the constant fear of capture and the impending torture and not ever seeing friends let alone any possible family is doom laden and very effective.

The clever twisting of the politick is brilliant, we have the Mind Police system of brutal warnings and punishments like servitude for the greater good to keep us all going, a Tariff... she adds little changes to reality like having 'seccas' as security guards, the slang works well. Very as it would be if we were in a gang of need and circumstance not formality.

The way Fiona adds the lack of travel generally is great, freight and cargo move, people sort of don't. Everyone has their place and roles and seems to just comply, we have news flash on the street and the automaton meets automation effect of life is very well done.

The skills and adaptability of the gang are excellent, they are survivalists living in hunger, willing to eat leftovers that have been thrown or luckily grabbed from absent cafe tables and when they have they share...

The underlying bonds of love and togetherness are beautifully written, especially connected to Cass and Jet. He is one of those dogs you just fall in love with, his bond and loyalty to Jake and indeed the others is sublime.

I really hope this book get noticed and read, others from Dickens to Wyndham to Ness have done 'Social Dystopia'
... this is of the moment and yet will have been created way before most things happened, very perceptive and very elucidating.

I'd love to delve into more plot, but that's what you need to read... 

If you want a look at life from within the lack of most things but the understanding of much, of togetherness through adversity and subversion
and fear mongering by the powers, of finding out what you can do with so little, making happiness come if only briefly... ditch tech a n embrace
the old ways, like paper reading... a subtle yet telling quip from within.

The UK is very close to this future, worryingly really, the way Fiona puts the future you wouldn't want it, but sadly some will get it unless we all stick together and make it a different one. I feel the future is best made by the youth of today, if they can drop their tech as a device and make it one to devise then they can do much.

Just wait till you get to Oxford Street Tube  and meet the depths of the underground with eels and all...

A final word, writing a book is a painful experience it can be lonely and frustrating and takes time, it has it's rewards, but the biggest is reading, so folks that can...do... the power of words is unequivocal and universal, let these by Fiona tell you a story you will not forget. 

We can all be together and we can all get to the right place.