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The Testament of Jessie Lamb by Jane Rogers

Booker Prize

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Jul 27, 2011, 9:07am Top

This thread is for discussion of The Testament of Jessie Lamb by Jane Rogers, which was selected for the 2011 Booker Prize longlist.

Jul 27, 2011, 1:32pm Top

I plan to read this in the next few weeks. Looking forward to everyone's comments.

Aug 29, 2011, 12:38pm Top

I just finished The Testament of Jessie Lamb and I really liked it. Still gathering my thoughts and I'll come back later and say something more intelligent. But until I do, I wanted to give this book two thumbs up as an interesting, compelling read.

Aug 29, 2011, 12:40pm Top

Oh, and I recommend that anyone interested in it read Avaland's awesome review on the book's page. Edgeworth also wrote a very good review, but some readers may consider it to contain spoilers.

Aug 29, 2011, 2:25pm Top

>3 Nickelini:, 4 Oh good, I'm glad that you and avaland liked it. I bought it on Saturday, and I'll read it early next month.

Aug 29, 2011, 3:54pm Top

Oh good! Glad to hear that you liked the book, Joyce! I'll be interested in your thoughts!

Edited: Aug 29, 2011, 4:54pm Top

Here are my comments on The Testament of Jessie Lamb:

Set in England in the near future, the major change in the world is that everyone is now living with a MDS (Maternal Death Syndrome). This disease, which is a result of bio-terrorism, is harmless to its hosts unless they are female and pregnant. In that case, the victim and baby suffer a horrific death. And hence, the future of all humans on the planet is in jeopardy.

Enter our hero, Jessie Lamb. Jessie is a teenage girl who wants to get involved with making the world a better place, but doesn't quite know how to go about it. And I'll leave the rest of the story up to you to discover what it is she does . . .

I found this a compelling read. Had I had the luxury, I would have read it in one sitting. I have to say that I preferred the build up of the story to the resolution. Once I figured out Jessie's plan, I wasn't as invested in the book. Part of that is because I disagreed with her choices. The ambiguity of her motivation, however, is very interesting.

When I started reading the Testament of Jessie Lamb, I thought it seemed like something Margaret Atwood would come up with, and then someone mentioned that it reminded them of Never Let Me Go. So a bit of a combination of the two. Though the world Jane Rogers creates is probably simplistic in a scientific sense, in a literary one it's complete and feels authentic. Outside of the author's control but adding to the authenticity for me, were all the scenes of English youth rioting (although the ones in this book at least had a reason).

Recommended for: I think this could appeal to a broad audience.

Why I Read This Now: I received this as a gift a few months ago, and because I am a little tired of dystopian fiction, I put it aside. However, because it made the Booker Prize long list, I thought it would be fun to read it before the short list announcement. Glad I did, because it was an enjoyable read.

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars.

I'm looking forward to others reading this so we can discuss it.

Edited: Sep 12, 2011, 2:28am Top

This book is unquestionably the worst Booker Dozen book I've ever completed, in this year or any other one. It's a dystopic novel supposedly set a few months in the future, in which millions of women are dying from Maternal Death Syndrome, a mysterious infection that turns women's brains to cottage cheese after they become pregnant. The narrator is a 16 year old girl who is appalled by what is taking place, and the relative indifference of the adults toward the plight of the women. She becomes active in several futile youth movements whose goals were unclear to me (or to them, I suspect), and then makes a brave (or incredibly foolish) personal decision, in order to make a statement in support of her beliefs. The characters were wooden, the dialogue sunk to the level of poorly written YA lit, and the story as a whole was implausible and thoroughly unenjoyable. Fortunately it was a quick read, in keeping with several of the other "Booker Lite" novels on this year's longlist. It gets a well earned 1-1/2 stars from me; however, other LT reviewers liked it far better than I did, so I would encourage you to take my review with a grain of salt.

ETA: I'm dropping my rating of this book to 1 star (and that still may be too high).

Sep 11, 2011, 7:16pm Top

Darryl - do you think you would have liked it a bit better if it wasn't a Booker nominee? I agree that it did read like a YA novel, but I think it was better written than most in that category. What YA novels did you prefer?

Edited: Sep 12, 2011, 2:37am Top

I think I would have disliked this book anyway, but its presence on this year's disappointing longlist invoked an intensely negative and visceral response from me (this book deserved to be on the longlist, and The Cat's Table by Michael Ondaatje didn't?). I thought it was poorly constructed and implausible from a medical standpoint, similar to the way I felt about Annabel, but that was a much better book (and I'm starting to think that my 1½ star rating for Jessie Lamb may be overly generous). For example, I thought that the description of the causative organism of MDS as an AIDS-like virus with the properties of a prion (an infectious agent that is the cause of Creutzfeldt–Jakob disease in adults and mad cow disease in animals, which cause widespread brain cell death and dysfunction) was laughably bad, and the clinic's decision to allow the 16 year old Jessie to proceed as a volunteer without her parents' clear consent was inconsistent and unbelievable. And, if I read it correctly, a large segment of the young male population suddenly changed their sexual orientation from heterosexual to homosexual after the MDS outbreak. Really???

I don't read YA fiction, and if this book is better written than most in that category then I won't read another one. And, I suspect that I should strike dystopic novels from my list, although I will give one of Margaret Atwood's books a fair chance before I do.

After I wrote my review I was curious to see what others thought of it. I checked the Man Booker Prize discussion group on the prize's web site here, and on the web sites of bloggers who follow the prize closely, such as KevinfromCanada here. The book finished 13th (dead last) by the two dozen or so members who ranked the longlist prior to the shortlist announcement. At least two people also felt that it was the worst Booker longlisted book they had ever read, and many, if not most, had a similar opinion about it. Here are some excerpts: "dreadful", "humorless", "poorly executed", "plot completely defies any sense of reality", "it reads like a skewed green manifesto written by a cult leader", "the homosexuality was weird since it was also coupled with young men raping women", "Jessie was about as stupid {a} character I can remember coming across in fiction", "I ask in all sincerity: is this a children's book? The writing is so bland and most of the ideas so old and tired."

Yep, my 1½ star rating is too high.

Please don't take my comments as a personal attack, Joyce. It's just that I absolutely hated this book, and its inclusion on this year's longlist is insulting and disappointing to me.

Sep 12, 2011, 8:27am Top

>10 kidzdoc:
Well, I was looking forward to The Testament of Jessie Lamb, but your description of the ridiculous medical explanations, and especially the hetero>homo "choice" of millions of people pretty much overnight, has convinced me to spend my time elsewhere. I can suspend disbelief readily in the enjoyment if a good tale, but that's just dreadful (and offensive, to at least the gays).

Sep 12, 2011, 10:46am Top

>11 auntmarge64: There were several "what the ****???" moments in the book for me, and the sudden switch of young males from hetero- to homosexual was absurd and incredulous. The only thing I would say in the book's defense is that at least two LTers who I highly respect and consider friends did like this book, and I am loathe to question their judgment or opinions.

Sep 12, 2011, 11:36am Top

Well, that is the nature of things, Darryl. We can disagree on things and still be friends.

I haven't read it, and probably will not now, as your comments have swayed me completely. I just don't want to waste time on this one.

Sep 12, 2011, 1:25pm Top

Please don't take my comments as a personal attack, Joyce. It's just that I absolutely hated this book, and its inclusion on this year's longlist is insulting and disappointing to me.

Oh, not in the least! No problem at all. I think we both went into the book with entirely different expectations, which influenced our opinion. Before I read it I was pretty sure the book wasn't Booker material, so I didn't hold it to the Booker standard. I approached it as a YA book, and still think it was better than a lot of the YA books I've read. There are certainly better YA books, but most are a lot worse. I agree that it didn't belong on the longlist and I have no idea how it ended up there.

Sep 13, 2011, 3:09am Top

Good. I didn't think that you would take my remarks personally, but I just wanted to be sure. Several members of the Man Booker Prize discussion group have been chided by the group's moderator and other members for personal attacks and acrimonious comments, which has kept me from becoming an active participant on its forums.

Group: Booker Prize

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