A Lifetime of Dystopia

A Reader's Respite has always been smitten with dystopian literature.  There's just something eerie and compelling about imagining how our world might look down the road.  There's a moral to every story, so to speak, and we're a sucker for a tale that makes us think long and hard about the direction society is taking.

But dystopia isn't just for grown-ups anymore.  In fact, A Reader's Respite has enjoyed a handful of dystopic fiction over the past few months and has discovered there's good reading for every age group.....

Pre-Teen Readers

Author Mark Dunn has written a charming dystopic tale intended for the pre-teen, but entirely enjoyable for anyone of any age who enjoys the complexity of language.  This charming story features a protagonist by the name of Ella Minnow Pea who lives in a future Utopian society called Nollop, a fictional island off the coast of the Carolinas that was founded to honor Nevin Nollop who was the first man to come up with the sentence

This sentence is, of course, the first to use every letter of the English alphabet.

Written in the epistolary format (entirely in correspondence between characters), Ella Minnow Pea explores what happens when an oligarchy runs amok.  When letters of the famous sentence begin falling off the town's statue of Nevin Nollop, the local government take this as a divine sign that Nevin no longer approves of that letter.  Therefore, the letter is subsequently banned from usage.

As more and more letters fall off, the results are immediately evident in Ella's correspondence.  Author Dunn is brilliant with his creative use of language and it helps to have a dictionary handy as more and more creative word substitutions are used as the story progresses.

Ella's realization of the horrible consequences of her government's actions make for many thoughtful discussions and ultimately, this book is a wonderful introduction to dystopic fiction while still retaining it's charm.

Teen Readers

If you haven't heard of the Hunger Games trilogy written by Suzanne Collins, you're missing out on the latest Twilight-like phenomenon amongst teens.  The trilogy begins with the introduction of a future society in North America where dictatorship reigns supreme and each year, as punishment for a long-distant rebellion, each district subjugated by the Capitol is required to produce two children via lottery who will then be thrown in an arena with the children from the other districts to fight to the death.

All three of the books manage to keep the plot very, very taut and fast-paced, engaging readers immediately and keeping their attention throughout.  While not likely to be winning any serious literary awards, Collins' books are to be applauded for their strong characters and strong moral fiber.

Despite the fame and money that came with the instant popularity of these books, the author maintained her writing and character integrity throughout.  Unlike other series of books that became teen phenomenons, Collins didn't compromise quality for churning out books.   For that alone, she's a winner in our book.

Adult Readers

And so we come to the mother of dystopic fiction:  Margaret Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale.  Only Atwood could combine beauty and fear in such a poetic, yet accessible, novel.  The Handmaid's Tale imagines a future society in which religion has been taken to the extreme and governs our society.  Specifically, she imagines a woman's role in this future world.

Reduced to highly regulated categories and completely subjugated by men, women are forced into roles chosen for them and their destinies are no longer their own.  And because propagation of the human race is of the utmost importance, fertile women are often designated Handmaids: dehumanized baby machines who are passed around amongst important men solely to produce a child.

While the concept is horrifying in and of itself, it is Atwood's telling of this tale that chills the reader to the bone.  Told entirely from one Handmaid's perspective, she masterfully reveals only tantalizing details of her life in bits and pieces, leaving the reader to put the puzzle together and realize the full extent of this completely plausible scenario.

Atwood's story is one you simply never forget.  Novels may come and go over the years, but the emotional impact of The Handmaid's Tale stays with the reader long after the last page is turned.

If you've never picked up a dystopian novel, any one of these books are well worth your time and reading effort.  The genre is an important one and not to be missed.

1 comment:

  1. 1. Will snap up the Willow Pea book for sheer creativity.

    2. Collins' series has turned my superreluctant reader 13 y.o. son into an on-fire reader who WANTS ME TO READ IT SO WE CAN TALK ABOUT IT

    3. I agree with your summation of Atwood's dystopic brilliance, continued in the bleak but unputdownable 'Oryx and Crake' and a recent release following on OaC whose title escapes me at the moment.


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