10 DAYS OF FREEDOM by Maurice Powell
The Book Guild Ltd p/b £6.89
Reviewed by Nigel Robert Wilson
This story possesses an intense descriptive power. The landscape in which it is conducted is familiar and clearly described, despite it being set in a ruinous future of 2209 AD. The great misfortune from which this tale suffers is the poor editing. It is very troublesome that a writer can spend ages honing their plot and narrative only for the final product to be let down through imprecision in the final stages. The writing style is clear and illustrative, showing an origin in the production of reports.
The world of mankind has undergone a tragedy, the cause of which has been largely forgotten. The population of Britain has declined by two-thirds, but the reason for this is unknown and unspecified until the conclusion. Measures that had been put in place to protect aspects of society during or immediately after whatever misery had fallen upon the world still prevailed and nobody really knew why things were organised in the way they are.
There is a distinct atmosphere of Robert Harris’s recent book `The Second Sleep’ which touches upon the same social misery that is a consequence of political and economic collapse. There is also a sense of institutional insanity that is reminiscent of George Orwell’s `1984’. Here too, the future is dystopian.
Work Zones had been long established places of employment. Older children, about fourteen, were allocated to these places and trained to perform particular tasks in the manufacture of unspecified articles. This would be their life until they became `beyond salvage’ or of no further use to society. Again this euphemism is not fully explained, enabling it to take on a dark and highly sinister nature. It is these known unknowns which provide the terrors implicit to the tale.
The men who inhabit the Work Zones, like all people held under an oppressive regime have their own networks of defiance. They save any written papers or documents they come across, review their contents and discuss them in the light of what they know. Furthermore, despite the factory units in the Work Zones being kept formally apart, they had found a way of subverting that separation. This is if anything a tale about people leading their own lives as best as possible within a constraining regime.
Fears that they might become `beyond salvage’ long before they get old causes a number of them to attempt an escape. Here again, the writer draws inspiration from wartime prisoner-of-war escape stories as men attempt to find out what life is like beyond the wire. Once out into the countryside the escapees are astonished by what they find. It is messy and complicated, and they are being pursued by the ruthless authorities.
Part of the tale is told through the experiences of two of the pursuers. These are psychologists, and they seem the only sane people in the entire book. The escaped prisoners are obviously inadequate and incomplete people, prone to error and often naïve. Whereas these two pursuers are not that keen to catch them either.
There is a mundane quality to this tale, but out of that routine, a real set of horrors develop. On the one hand, there is a tale of the Black Death within a modern populated society, and on the other is the callous, institutionalised brutality of the state. This story challenges prevailing social attitudes. There could have been a lot more to this book.