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The Testament of Jessie Lamb [Paperback]

Jane Rogers
3.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)

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0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
By Paolo TOP 1000 REVIEWER
Format:Paperback
This is one of the more unlikely picks for the Booker prize longlist, published by a small publishing house in the highlands Scotland and extraordinarily difficult to purchase if you live in North America where this particular book has no distribution deal. Set not far in to the future a virus has spread affecting the entire world's population, some sort of cross between Aids and CJD, the effects of which are that any woman who gets pregnant soon develops a rather unfortunate Swiss cheese effect on her brain and dies before the infant can come to term.

In what could be described as a cross between Kazuo Ishiguro's 'Never Let Me Go' and Margaret Atwood's 'The Handmaid's Tale' the novel is told by the eponymous sixteen year old Jessie Lamb, in part as a remembrance of events past and in part first person narrative of Jessie, locked up by her geneticist father for her decision to volunteer to be a 'sleeping beauty': a sacrificial lamb who accepts an unaffected frozen embryo and is put into a coma giving just enough time for proper gestation.

The book details a world falling apart millions of women perish and world faces the prospect of no new human life on the planet. Society fractures as religious, feminist, youth and animal rights groups try to force their agenda through ever more militant methods. It is a world in which future prospects are gloomy and any solutions no matter how extreme are considered.

As I mentioned above, this isn't typical Booker territory and you would be hard pushed to find anyone who would contend that this is one of the thirteen best eligible books of this year.
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Amazon.com: 3.3 out of 5 stars  20 reviews
12 of 14 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Difficult questions asked but let down by two dimensional groups Aug. 30 2011
By Ripple - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Kindle Edition
The subject matter of "The Testament of Jessie Lamb" ensures that this is not a comfortable read. Set in the near future, Rogers has imagined a truly terrifying virus that affects pregnant women, known as Maternal Death Syndrome or MDS. Everyone carries this illness but the effects, a cross between AIDS and CJD, ensure that all pregnant mothers will die - without exception. Scientists have found a way to save some of the unborn children, but only by placing their mothers in a chemically induced coma from which they won't recover. Now though, there scientists have also discovered a way of immunising frozen, pre-MDS embryos which, if they can be placed in a willing volunteer, may ultimately allow the survival of the human race. However, the volunteers need to be under 16 or the likely success rates are too low. Step forward one Jessie Lamb.

The Booker longlist can be relied on to throw up at least one novel on a controversial subject. Last year it was "The Slap". This year it's this novel. There's no doubt it asks awkward and unsettling questions about a variety of issues including the age at which people can take informed decisions, the rights and wrongs of scientific research and animal testing and the right anyone has to chose their own death. There are no easy answers to any of these questions of course.

As you might infer from the title, the story is written from a first person narrative by Jessie. Often with first person narratives it's difficult to get a true steer on the character herself. Effectively she's dealing with the usual teen dramas of arguing parents, failed love and general `what's the point of me?' stuff. She's into environmentalism and vegetarianism, all in the idealistic way of many of her age. The most rounded character is her father, fortuitously a genetic scientist who talks a fair amount of common sense.

As for Jessie's friends, she seems to have a bizarre mix of one of each of a series of extreme beliefs. We get the ardent feminist, who joins a group called FLAME whose statements are so ludicrous that they almost undermine what is a potentially a strong feminist argument; a supporter of ALF, the animal rights movement; and a self-sufficiency fan who decides to run off to live off the land. Add into this mix her aunt who is desperate for a child, whatever the personal cost. Then there are the religious fundamentalists against scientific research called the Noahs. The problem is that these are all rather two dimensional. Most 16-year-olds I know group together in like minded cliques. There is nothing that would bind these apparent friends together.

The genesis of the virus is hinted at but never explored. Is it a terrorist act or merely an unfortunate accident? Neither Rogers, nor Jessie, are interested in this. Neither do we get a great deal on the overall impact of the disease, other than that is has clearly spawned a lot of fundamental groups of various types.

Yet for all this, there's no doubt that it asks some interesting and uncomfortable questions of the reader and the ending is genuinely moving. The whole concept of the virus itself is a scarily good basis for a story, but by presenting such a myriad of extreme views, the reality of the issue is somehow lost. FLAME for example rant that if the disease affected males then something would have been done by now. Ultimately it lacked the heart that can make dystopian stories, like "Never Let Me Go" or "The Handmaid's Tale", so affecting. But at least it doesn't try to over simplify the moral message. I'm still not sure what I think of Jessie's decision and that's to the book's credit.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A great read, but gets a bit lost in the second half- but still worth it! June 9 2012
By Jaime H. - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
The Testament of Jessie Lamb gives us a dystopian-esque world that feels very real and palpable that it seems a nearly possible scenario. A virus has been manufactured and released across the world by an unknown source, targeting pregnant women. While the virus lies dormant in everyone, it is activated when a woman becomes pregnant, leading to her imminent death. Thus, the result being eventual, and fairly rapid, extinction of humans.
While scientists have extensively researched the virus, the death toll rises and time is running out. There are many controversial experiments being discussed and carried out, including the `Sleeping Beauty' program, in which young women are implanted or become pregnant naturally and are then put to sleep for the duration of the pregnancy- the result being their death upon birthing the child, thus making them living incubators. However, the babies are able to be given a vaccine that will make them immune to the virus, ensuring they will be able to populate later in life.
Jessie Lamb is a quiet yet strong-willed young woman living in a world that is on the edge of collapse. The most interesting and engrossing thing about this book is the resolute calmness this leading lady is able to convey, even when everything around her is chaotic. It is almost as if Jessie is the eye of a storm, bringing reprieve from the destruction of her world and causing the reader to not be fearful, but rather really see what is going on. Her voice also conveys a sadness, indicating a certain resignation that comes with knowing everything is a mess, but a hopefulness that any small act may lead to change. While she is fighting for survival, she succumbs to a numbness when dealing with the violence around her.
The first half of The Testament of Jessie Lamb draws the reader into a world that is muted and desperate, yet hints of a revolution on the horizon. It deals with issues of violence against women, reproductive freedom, medical privacy, the sexualized politics of women's bodies, religion, science, and so much more. Instead of being action-packed like a lot of dystopians, it follows the lives of those who are taking different paths in coming to terms with the new world in which they find themselves. This is a novel that could easily be for an older YA audience, but is marketed toward adults. It is written in the voice of a 16-year-old, but she is wise beyond her years due to the realities she faces. Although the second half of the book was a bit tedious and veered off path for me, it is still completely worth the read.
Jessie Lamb reads like an indie movie at an art house. It is beautiful, palpable, resonates with sadness, dense at times, and has won several awards, even though it loses some of the audience along the way. Although who the audience is exactly is somewhat uncertain- but there definitely is one. It is the concept and overall feeling that gives this book life, rather than the characters and storyline. Although I was disappointed for the last half, I am still thinking about this book- I am quite sure that is a good thing.
5 of 7 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Ambitious idea but story and characters are flat July 13 2012
By Michael White - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
The idea behind this book has potential - a world-wide virus that kills all pregnant women is just one more catastrophe to add to our 21st century list of woes that include global warming, terrorism, exploitation of animals and the environment, etc. 16-year-old Jessie Lamb, on the cusp of adulthood, is tired of feeling helpless about the messed up world of adults, and she want to take action in a way that will actually make a difference. A chance to do something decisive comes her way - a chance to make her own decision, to do something to make this world better, but at the cost of her life. Her parents feel, as any sane parent would, that she's throwing her life away in a fit of teenage drama, making a decision that she won't even live to regret later.

The story has all of the typical themes of teenage angst and parental tension, placed in a dramatic, mildly dystopic setting. But for the most part the characters are shallow caricatures of various extreme views. The most interesting relationship in the book is between Jessie and her father, but the tensions in that relationship are made to just poof away in an extremely absurd ending, during which a weakened 16-year old Jessie can somehow get her father, a healthy, middle aged man who is no push-over, to lock himself up while she escapes to her death.

I wanted to like this book, but the unintentionally implausible plotting and the juvenile characterization turned me off, and I finished the book in disgust. The author says she was inspired in part by Philip Roth's great novel of father-daughter tension, American Pastoral - go read that much better book instead of this one.
2.0 out of 5 stars it seems like there should be other books to explain what really ... July 4 2014
By Leung Yiu - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
The book surrounds teenager's idealistic sacrifice for the human race. But the book cannot go in depth about her decisions and since the whole book is written in the teenager's voice, it seems like there should be other books to explain what really happened and what should have happened. It is a little disappointing because the idea of the novel is so good and if I knew I would only give it a 2 star, I wouldn't have spent my time reading it.

There are some good parts and I often identify myself as Jessie when she bitches about her world.
1.0 out of 5 stars Predictable, and with a shockingly annoying protagonist. Skip it. June 22 2014
By Karmalily - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
The idea presented in this book is interesting: a world where there are no more births due to a virus of unknown origin. Scientists need to find a way to carry on the human race, otherwise our race will be extinct within lifetime.

Jane Rogers' execution of this idea was poor. My main issue was with the protagonist, Jessie. To put it bluntly, she's a whiny, self-absorbed teenager who thinks she's the most important person in the world. Most of the book is her complaining that she knows better than all the grownups but that no one listens to her, which means they're clearly idiots. The more this character was developed, the less I liked her or cared about the story.

Another huge problem I had with this book was how often the author seemed to want to add animal rights to the story, despite it being unimportant. I'm pretty much going to guess that the author is vegan or an animal rights activist, and wanted to shove it in wherever she could. It was an annoyance.

Third, and this is more of an editing problem than an author one, but I found so many typos that I kept getting distracted from the story.

And lastly, the book is so predictable that it's ridiculously boring. After reading the first 50 pages I had it figured out.

Do yourselves a favor and read something else. There are a lot of amazing books within this genre that are significantly better.
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