February 05, 2013

Peter Dickinson: "Eva"

Title: Eva [on Amazon | on Goodreads]
Series: None
Author: Peter Dickinson [Site | Goodreads]
Genres: Sci-Fi, Dystopian
Year: 1989
Age: 12+
Stars: 4/5
Pros: Makes you think, and care for the main character. Raises awareness about our exploitation of the world and animal species.
Cons: Some tech-naiveness (that will be addressed in the review). Parts of the story feel a bit rushed.
Will appeal to: Anyone who cares for environment and animal population. Anyone who thinks that science can't make progress regardless of ethics.

Blurb: Thirteen year old Eva wakes up in the hospital unable to remember anything since the picnic on the beach. Her mother leans over the bed and begins to explain. A traffic accident, a long coma...But there is something, Eva senses, that she’s not being told. There is a price she must pay to be alive at all. What have they done, with their amazing medical techniques, to save her? (Amazon)

Review: Sort-of-disclaimer: I read the Italian translation of this book, so I can't really judge the writing style. Also, I don't know if any parts of this novel have been cut off in my version.
Talk about mixed reviews. Some people seem to hate this book with a passion, or at least are unimpressed. On the other hand, this story has captivated an equal number of readers. Though it was of course aimed at a younger audience, adults often seem to have more empathy with it. I read the book at an adult age myself, so I'm not really sure about the impact it could have on a teen. Anyway, I'd recommend this novel to both age groups.
I don't think that the injured-girl-(or-boy-sometimes)-waking-up-after-a-coma-with-no-memory was routine back in 1988 (it sure is now)...but anyway, that's not really the case. Eva (whose surname is Adamson, by the way...not very subtle LOL) wakes up in an hospital with her memory almost intact - the only thing she doesn't seem to remember is the actual accident that put her there. But even before her awareness resurfaces, her mind is floating in a strange, inexplicable dream, full with a mysterious forest that doesn't even exist anymore. Anyway, Eva does remember who she is - only, while she was sleeping, the "is" turned into a "was" without her knowing. She went from a thirteen year old girl to a six year old chimpanzee (once named Kelly), her human brain virtually replicated into the ape's one. Her parents approved on the experimental procedure because it was the only chance Eva had to survive (we'll have to suspend our disbelief on that of course...I'm not really buying that a parent could ever make such a choice, even if - like Eva's father - said parent had been working with chimps all his/her life). Problem is, Eva turns out to be not just a girl in a chimp's body; Kelly's memories - even the ancestral ones - are embedded in her replicated human mind. While Eva thinks she'll "only" have to adjust to her new body at first, it won't be long till she finds out that Kelly isn't letting go. [...]

I have some minor (???) issues with this book. Had it come out nowadays, I'm sure it would have been a trilogy, or a duet at least. (Not that it's a good thing in itself - on the contrary, it sometimes looks like a mere publishing requirement, regardless of the real necessity for the story to be told at length. Sometimes a longer book would suffice in order to do the job). And in this case, I feel that parts of Eva's tale have been underplayed. For example, the other characters, like Grog, are not as well-rounded as they could - or should? - be. We know almost nothing about Eva's friends, or how they feel about her. Two of them are just "there"...they seem to have accepted the situation without really being affected by it. They don't come across as affectionate or uneasy or repulsed. Or better, like I said, we don't get to know them at all. As for the rest of Eva's schoolmates, they're not even mentioned...only the younger ones. Also, is it possible that the school accepted Eva back so easily? and how's she doing there? what about the 8 months she spent in a coma - and the trauma she went through?
Another thing that makes me frown a little is Eva's supposed maturity. She sounds smarter and wiser than you average 13 years old - and please don't think I'm underrating people around that age. Also, she seems to cope well enough with the situation from the very start, and I don't think that being raised with the chimps is reason enough for that.
My third pet peeve is about the technology addressed in the novel. This story is set in a vague future timeline, where science has tremendously advanced and 3D has taken over real life. Now, Dickinson was able to foresee the impact of 3D on everyday's life, but he couldn't think of anything better than a tape for Eva to record her talks. He wrote the book in 1988, and the first CDs had been around since 1982, though they would only become popular a couple of years after the book was out. So tapes were already an outdated option at the time.
Now you may wonder why I gave 4 stars to this novel, given the amount of criticism above. The truth is, I loved the message this book conveyed, and I didn't even mind the 3rd person POV - it didn't make me feel less close to Eva. Dickinson's theory about Kelly ending up being much more than a host body may not be scientifically correct (?), but it's fascinating. We get to know the dynamics that regulate a group of chimpanzees, and the author does a good job in making us privy of those, while at the same time keeping Eva's lingering humanity in sight. Eva is a divided being, but her human part may ultimately be linked with the knowledge and use of language, more than with the emotions she experienced in her past life. However, Dickinson manages to create a character that stirs up our emotions, both towards the girl and the chimp she's become.
The end is simply beautiful and right. Some people seem to find it abrupt and even weird, but I think it complements the novel as it should. And there's hope at the end of the road...

For more Sci-Fi books click here.
Like this book? You might also be interested in Mary E. Pearson: "The Adoration of Jenna Fox".

Two more covers for this novel...the one I posted above was probably more effective, in its subtleness - but I do like these too. And you? What's your favourite cover?

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