The Giver, by Lois Lowry

April 12, 2011 at 13:36 (Book Reviews, Children's Books, Dystopia, Fiction, Mediocre Books, Science Fiction) (, , , )


The Giver is, quite honestly, a bit of a fraud. It is very nice to think that in a world of sterilised memories and a tableau of soma-induced sameness, one boy’s borrowed experiences can shatter the brittle mirror of illusion, and send him plummeting headfirst into the real world, and into an adventure that will either refine or kill him. We like stories like this, filled with purgatory and a phoenix soul rising above the dross of temporal darkness; stories where it is so difficult and yet so simple to find a quick fix, nestled down in the back of that marvellous lump of fat, the human brain.

There is very little, however, that sets Jonas apart from those around him, who also live with the same experiences of death and trauma and agony, euthanising the old and young and disobedient with the placid grins of automatons, with their conditioning seemingly quite unaffected by the dark side of their world. It seems inconceivable that Jonas is able to so quickly, and with so little soul-rending, reject The Community; even more so that The Giver himself is equally ready to tear apart the utopia he has propagated. Suspicious minds will see clumsy fingerprints of a pedagogue author all over this charming and unbelievable happenstance.

It is a very pleasing tale of humanism that works, and of the innate good in all of us bubbling to the surface and sprouting butterly wings, or somesuch rot. Huxley and Orwell, Heller and Bradbury knew that people just aren’t like that.

Jonas’ easy evasion of The Community’s watchdogs, his own binary acception of The Community as wicked but misguided and his crusade to save Gabriel’s trebly worthless life (in what by all accounts ought to be his view) are all nice in a warm and fuzzy sort of way, but are rather hard to swallow.

We are left with a world of evil in which everyone is good, and a world of conformity where everyone is a secret rebel in masque, and nobody is conformed. The Community is one of the more organic dystopias imagineable, held up by a bizarre social contract, where Big Brother does not lurk behind monitors, but behind the faces of every schoolboy and parent; an intriguing concept, were it not for the inexplicable exception of the key characters. Read another way, this book gains a little more power when the frightening fact crops up that its heroes are things of fluff that cannot (and could never) exist; but the earnest attempts of this short story can be lauded only as a brave attempt to bring the dystopian genre to a younger audience, and will find it very hard to stand up on its own merits.


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