Throwback Thursday this week is a novel dealing with the aftermath of the flu pandemic of 1918—hopefully not a sign of things to come! Plus One is narrated by Julia Whelan and was released in 2015.
Following the flu pandemic of 1918, the medical profession was divided into day and night teams in order to cope with the scale of the disease. Before long this segregation was widened to encompass the whole population, which served to slow and eventually stop the spread of the flu, and continued even after the epidemic was over in order to increase efficiency and production. Those who live and work during the night hours are known as Smudges, those more privileged who live in daylight hours are Rays. Lives are rigidly controlled and restricted. Phones are controlled and tracked. The laws are strictly upheld and any misdemeanour is punishable.
Sol Le Coeur, a Smudge, is a teenage factory worker who wants her dying grandfather, Poppu, to meet his great-granddaughter so much she resorts to desperate measures. Her brother, Ciel, the baby’s father has been reassigned to a Ray for the last couple of years so he and Sol have been unable to see each other. Deliberately causing an injury to herself in order to somehow take the baby to Poppu so he could hold her, Sol comes under the care of a young Ray medical apprentice, D’Arcy Benoît. Sol’s plan goes horribly wrong as she realises she has ‘borrowed’ the wrong baby.
It takes guts to deliberately mutilate your hand while operating a blister-pack sealing machine, but all I had going for me was guts. It seemed like a fair trade: lose maybe a week’s wages and possibly the tip of me right middle finger, and in exchange Poppu would get to hold his great-granddaughter before he died.
I wasn’t into babies, but Poppu’s unseeing eyes filled to spilling when he spoke of Ciel’s daughter, and that was more than I could bear. It was absurd to me that the dying should grieve the living when the living in this case was only ten kilometers away. Poppu needed to hold that baby, and I was going to bring her to him, even if Ciel wouldn’t.
The relationships between Sol and Poppu is wonderfully written as are the night/day comparisons. I wasn’t totally convinced by Sol and D’Arcy’s relationship considering it was over the course of just a few days, but their shared past, which they didn’t realise initially, was a nice touch. The writing all through is beautifully done and very enjoyable. The storyline becomes a lot more alarming and develops seriousness and depth as it continues and the far reaching consequences to the Smudge population takes on another, more sinister slant. Secret Government controls are uncovered and family secrets told.
The idea of using the 1918 flu pandemic as the catalyst for the alternate reality is an interesting concept and works well as the basis of the story. The social injustices caused by the segregation affect both Smudges and Rays, although penalties for the Smudges are much higher. Well portrayed characters drive the story and what begins as a loving, if misguided, gesture by Sol morphs into a fight for justice leading to a situation neither Sol, Ciel or D’Arcy could have foreseen and will change their lives forever.
I found the first part of the book a little slow, maybe necessarily so in order to give a detailed picture of Sol and her world, but as events pick up so does the action and adventure. The story incorporates a lot of emotions; grief, courage, deception and determination among them. Julia Whelan does a really excellent job with the narration as always, up to and including singing as a Frenchman!
About the Book
Sol Le Coeur is a Smudge – a night dweller in an America rigidly divided between people who wake, live, and work during the hours of darkness and those known as Rays, who live and work during daylight. Impulsive, passionate, and brave, Sol concocts a plan to kidnap her newborn niece – a Ray – in order to bring the baby to visit her dying grandfather. Sol’s violation of the day/night curfew is already a serious crime, but when her kidnap attempt goes awry, she stumbles on a government conspiracy to manipulate the Smudge population. Sol escapes the authorities with an unexpected ally: a Ray who gets in her way, a boy she might have hated if fate hadn’t forced them on the run together – a boy the world now tells her she can’t love.
Set in a vivid alternate reality and peopled with complex, deeply human characters on both sides of the day/night divide, Elizabeth Fama’s Plus One is a brilliantly imagined drama of individual liberty and civil rights, and a fast-paced romantic adventure story.