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Nessa's Thoughts

Just a British girl who reads a bit too much.

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The Glimpse - Claire Merle I'd like to start out this review with a maths lesson. Don't run away, gentle readers! It's nothing too horrifying.This book takes place in a dystopian society where people with genetic predispositions for psychological conditions are referred to as 'Crazies' and live miserable lives, segregated from the perfect 'Pure' people whose genes don't show any predisposition for a psychological condition, and live very comfortable lives, served by people who have genetic predispositions but haven't gone 'full crazy' yet. Offended yet? I sure as hell was.Now here's where the maths comes in. Statistics show that mental health conditions are common enough in the Western world that one in four people have, or develop one over the course of their lifetime.So, kiddy-winks, we finally get to the maths: what is the problem with segregating society into two factions based on mental health, when every one out of four people will develop a mental disorder some time in their lives, no matter what their genes say? Yes, that's what I thought. This dystopia fell flat fairly quickly, especially considering that Ana was given these ridiculous conditions to meet once her mental health state was found out by the authorities. So she can live in her gated community with her father, but only if she manages to behave herself until her handfasting day, after which she would still have to keep her loony tendencies in check. Like every single person in the world with mental health problems is a ticking time bomb. Piss off.I really wasn't keen on the world-building in this novel. The idea of London as a massive asylum just annoyed me. It's a very hectic city, and I would never want to live there, but why do the rich people live on the outskirts? I know the commuting belt around London (Essex, Surrey, Kent, etcetera) is a haven for the rich, but uh... the super rich tend to live in central London, last time I checked.I suppose the city being an asylum could be linked to bedlam in the Victorian times. Exhibit a few signs of acting 'abnormal', and you get thrown in there until they decide you're well again. Which is almost certainly never.Another reviewer wrote that we tend to do the same thing nowadays, in that those with severe mental illnesses are kept away in institutions away from the public eye. Yes, well, there's generally a lot more tact about that nowadays. People in mental health institutions are generally getting treatment for their problems, a far cry from the One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest days where it was a never-ending prison sentence and there wasn't much rehabilitation on offer. Nowadays there's counselling, there's social stimulation, there's medical treatment... When someone is sectioned under the Mental Health Act, it's usually because they can't function in society and need help, and they receive it there. Modern-day institutions are not there to keep the 'crazy people' locked away where we can't see, they're there to help.Another argument is that Ana's flippant and nasty attitude towards the 'Crazies' is the byproduct of being raised in this hellish world, and having to be constantly on her guard ever since her reassessment two years ago, but... this just comes across as stilted and offensive. What makes it worse is that the book is written in the third person, so while Ana isn't personally calling the mentally ill 'Crazy', the narrator is, and it's incredibly uncomfortable. Did Ms. Merle not think that some of her audience might have also have or know someone with a mental disorder, and get kind of upset reading 'Crazy', 'Mental', 'Loony', and other synonyms thereof used in such a casual, derogatory sense?The main problem with this world is that these genuine mental disorders are treated so callously and cruelly. There's some hint of a cataclysmic event which kickstarted the foundation of this stupid government who apparently don't realise that there is a stark difference between people with serious mental health problems and people who get upset every once in a while.I'd also like to bring attention to another YA dystopia: Delirium by Lauren Oliver. Although at first I had quite a few qualms with our narrator, Lena, saying homosexuality was unnatural and that heterosexual marriage and heteronormativity in general was the only way society could remain stable, I don't particularly hold it against her. The girl has been raised in this world, she's been spoon-fed this information all her life, terrified of the repercussions of acting abnormal, and genuinely doesn't know any better. She is a well-written character, and props to Lauren Oliver for that. Whereas with Ana, it comes across as really bitchy and shallow, like she's worried one of these mentally ill people will touch her and infect her with their nasty mental disorder germs. In the beginning of the book, she shows one act of altruism – after seeing a young 'Crazy' girl getting stabbed, she lets down the window of her limousine and throws her scarf out. And still she looks down her nose at them, especially when a 'Crazy' grabs at the material like it's golden silk. In fact, I couldn't believe I was reading about a girl who throws her scarf to a bleeding young girl, then moments later complains about how the scarf was actually the centrepiece of her dress and without it, she looks just as plain as the other girls.Ana's behaviour regularly had me facepalming, in fact. It's just too erratic. The girl may have the stupid genetic predisposition for depression, but her behaviour in private was ridiculous. Here is a girl, who, upon seeing her boyfriend chatting to another girl at a party, sprints home clambering through gardens and fences, crying her eyes out. And when her new husband has to go off and do something in private, meaning he has to take off his handfasting ribbon, Ana does the most sensible, logical thing that comes to mind – she plays with a knife in their marital bedroom, and goes to sit at the bottom of a swimming pool. (That's quite a feat. Was she holding on to a brick?) And to put the icing on the cake, how about nearly fainting when the news reports her husband has gone missing?What I don't understand about her incredibly erratic behaviour is that Ana is supposed to be an A-grade student, and in her spare time, downloads and reads law papers from Oxford and Cambridge. She can also fill out tax returns! (...Even though she's a teenager, and doesn't have a job, and apparently in this world filling out a tax return is a matter of doing simple arithmetic that the poor, unenlightened Crazy people don't know how to do!) We're supposed to see her as this paragon of intelligence and rationality. Such as deducing decades-long conspiracies with one trip into the city or into a psychiatric unit.Now, let's return to the idea of psychological disorders being linked to your genes. In most secondary school biology classes, you learn about genetics and how certain conditions are genetically linked. If one of your parents carries the gene for Huntington's Disease, whether they're affected by it or not, you, or your siblings, have a 50% chance of developing the condition. That's all fine and dandy. But mental health disorders, like most physical diseases, are still being catalogued and researched to determine if it's nature or nurture. I don't think that thirty years into the future, we'll be so medically advanced that we'll go: “Oh, look at our stupid ancestors wasting all that time studying psychological disorders, when it's clearly a case of genetics!”But whatever, let's assume we're in Ms. Merle's world and everyone is subject to a genetic and mental health test to check whether or not they're 'Crazy'. The problem with this is that this creates a self-fulfilling prophecy. Tell someone they're crazy enough times and they'll believe you, am I right? What if you're told by a learned figure of authority that you are what you are and your condition can never, ever change, and you have no chance of upward social mobility? So what's depressing is that there are people in 'Crazy-Land' who may have just had a few emotional problems once upon a time, and who are now stuck there forever. It's quite depressing, actually.I also really detested this idea that mentally healthy people are better than people with mental health problems. Going by what Ms. Merle has already written, mentally ill people in this world are ticking time bombs ready to burst into tears, hallucinate, or switch personalities, commit random acts of homicide, kill themselves... you get the idea. So why are the mentally unwell, or even people who aren't currently mentally ill but have a predisposition for it, living in squalor while the rich live in these nice little gated communities? If there was ever a society that needed an uprising of the people, this was it.The world-building aspect just wasn't there either. This novel is essentially a retread of the film Gattaca, where genetic discrimination runs rampant. Only here it's set in London, and the government are a bit obsessed with the idea of mental illness, it seems. Argh.It was also all over the place, story-wise. Ana is discovered to not be 'Pure' at the beginning of the book. It then skips to two or three years later, her father has pulled some strings that mean she hasn't been thrown out with the 'Crazies'. Ana runs away from home after her boyfriend Jasper goes missing after unfurling some conspiracy, and just so happens to come across the people who can help her find this mysterious Cole bloke who she happens to fall irrevocably in love with. Then Ana winds up in a psychiatric unit that Nurse Ratched from One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest would find cruel and unusual with old buddy Tamsin and soon-to-be-husband Jasper. And it's revealed that this society is in a sorry state all thanks to Ana's evil father and the evil pharmaceutical companies. Then daddy dearest busts Ana out after she drowns in an immersion tank and puts her under house arrest. Cole is said to have moved abroad but oh no, wait, he hasn't, but he's heading off to the headquarters of a religious sect in the countryside. Ana has to marry Jasper but Jasper's really emotionally fragile now, so Ana marries him and then escapes from her community to be with Cole. Because he saw a vision of the future in which he and Ana were together and has been in love with her since he first saw her.The story doesn't really get better as it goes on, and I'm afraid I couldn't muster up any enthusiasm to give it anything more than a 1.5/5.(This review is also available on my blog: http://book-wyrm.blogspot.co.uk/2012/07/the-glimpse-by-claire-merle.html)(Thanks to NetGalley for the ARC.)