Books

Dark Lullaby (Polly Ho-Yen) – Book Review

Dark Lullaby is the latest release from Titan Books, one that presents a grim future for Britain, but one that seems so plausible it’s absolutely frightening.

The book follows the life of Kit, a woman who’s struggling to keep her family together in a world where the slightest deviation from what those in authority see as good parenting can cause your child to be taken away from you forever. Set in a future where the vast majority of humanity has become infertile, new technology has been developed to enable people to become pregnant, though it’s not without significant risks.

We follow Kit through two different periods of her life, with chapters alternating between her as a young single woman and her as a mother who’s trying to prevent her daughter daughter from being taken away. Through these intertwining narratives we start to unravel why Kit goes from someone who never wants to go through the dangers of having a child, to someone willing to go on the run to protect her daughter.

       
       

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One of the things that makes Dark Lullaby so engrossing, that really makes you want to keep on reading even though it’s a pretty depressing book at times, is how much it feels like what you’re reading here could actually come to pass. The Britain presented in Polly Ho-Yen’s story isn’t too far removed from what we have now, but for a few differences.

There’s an almost constant state presence in public and people homes, as government approved films and broadcasts are streamed out over devices, and not allowed to be turned off. We also learn that through some sly political manoeuvring there’s only a one party system now, and that those in charge are pretty misogynistic, and unforgiving towards people. I’m sure some will argue that that doesn’t seem realistic, but given some of the violence against women in the UK these last few weeks, and the government trying to make protest illegal, it strikes me as very plausible that a government could reach that stage, especially if something like world wide infertility became an issue.

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Despite setting up this new version of the United Kingdom the story isn’t really about this future, but about one family, and the trials they go through. Over the course of the two time periods we learn a lot about Kit, and her sister, and the struggles they go through with their family. When Kit is at the point in her life that she doesn’t want to be a parent her sister is going through the lengthy process of becoming a mother, followed by the frightening trials of keeping her child from being taken away. Kit is able to show her sister support, and can try to be there for her, but as she gets closer and closer to losing her son their relationship strains and the two sisters drift further apart, to the point where when Kit herself is a mother and finds herself in a similar situation to her sister she’s suddenly alone and without her support.

The book examines family relationships, and how extreme stress and trauma can shape and change those dynamics. We see people who openly fall apart as the government breathes down their necks, and others who put on a brave public face. We see some marriages flourish, with partners coming together stronger than ever, whilst others fall to pieces thanks to the pressure of the loss of their child looms on the horizon. And this is what I think makes the book so engaging and affecting. It puts you in these people’s worlds at the most awful times in their lives, at times when they risk losing the thing they love the most.

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I’m not a parent, and I have no intention of ever becoming one. Parenting isn’t for me for a number of reasons. However, even as someone who never wants a child, Polly Ho-Yen managed to make me feel something whilst reading this book. She got me to feel like I was in these people’s shoes, experiencing the stress and trauma that they were living with; the desperation to hold onto their children as the world around them turned against them. I couldn’t imagine what it would be like to feel like you’re having to be constantly on the lookout, to not be able to trust anyone because you believe they could try to take your child from you, but I feel like I’ve had a little glimpse into that thanks to this book.

Dark Lullaby isn’t a light read; the ‘dark’ in the title really gives that away. There aren’t many moments of happiness, there’s a constant fear and dread that permeates the book, yet despite that I wasn’t able to stop reading it. I couldn’t help but be drawn into this world and these characters, and I feel like it’s a book I’m going to be remembering and recommending for a long time.

Dark Lullaby is out now from Titan Books.

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