GREENSMITH by Aliya Whiteley
Unsung Stories, 229 page p/b, £9.99
Reviewed by Pauline Morgan
The best way of describing this book is playful. Although there may be some important issues underlying the narrative, the situation and the characters cannot be regarded with total seriousness. The resulting effect is surreal.
Penelope Greensmith is a fifty-two bio-librarian who is fleeing the War. This is a War fought electronically through the internet. She moves into a remote cottage in order to work on her project of cataloguing every plant species in the world. She has a device (the Vice) inherited from her father, who started the project. When a specimen is fed into the unit, it preserves the plant on a disk. She has thousands of these. She doesn’t know how the device works, only that it does. Soon after she moves in, a man called Hort turns up in her garden, asking to see her collection. Not long afterwards, a virus begins sweeping the Earth, destroying all plant life.
When Hort confesses that he is actually an alien and he is searching for a cure for the virus which had devastated a number of other planets, Penelope agrees to go with him, taking the Vice and the collection of compressed plants as he convinces her that it is the key to solving the problem with the virus. The Vice is wrapped in orange Timetape, which grows on trees, and sent back in time to her father. Hort thinks if they find the source of the Vice, it will provide clue to stop the plague. On the planet where it grows, the virus appears, wiping out the trees. It appears to be following them. Penelope finds herself in a number of bizarre situations as she tags along with Hort, such as an intelligent talking rebel called fluffy and a master criminal called Rampion, who appears to be the prison planet of Castlewellan. Frequently mistaken for a pot plant –Pea – she is to find that much of which she has been told isn’t true.
This is a book that is difficult to explain as it must be experienced to be appreciated. Although most of the book appears to be a first-person narrative from Penelope’s point of view, it is best not to take anything on trust. It is much like going on a road trip under the influence of LSD. At times the narrative descends into the bizarre. Interspersed are recordings made by her daughter Lily detailing the last days of life on Earth. Some knowledge of plant nomenclature will enhance your reading enjoyment.