The Book of Malachi by T.C. Farron
Titan Books, pb, £7.37
Reviewed by Sarah Deeming
Malachi is mute, his tongue removed years ago when soldiers came to his village and killed everyone but him. However, if he will work for Raizier Pharmaceuticals for six months on an oilrig, then Raizier will grow him a new one. It seems like a dream job until Malachi realises that his role is to care for criminals who are being used as incubators, growing new organs for the wealthy elite. Doubt of his wards’ guilt set in as the prisoners tell Malachi their stories. Do they really deserve their fate regardless of whether they are guilty or not. As relationships form, Malachi must decide what is more important, his tongue or the lives of forty inmates.
The Book of Malachi is told from Malachi’s point of view in first person present tense. There is a leaning towards a literary style, which, although not my favourite style, works really well here. The use of present tense, as well as separating the chapters by days, creates a sense of immediacy, which made it difficult for me to put the book down.
We learn early on that Malachi could talk at one point and is a lot more intelligent than the people around him. His story of how he came to be a mute is fed to us in pieces as Malachi discovers one of the criminals on the lab helped the soldiers who destroyed his village. One of my favourite elements is that Malachi is an unreliable narrator. His exposure to the criminals and their honesty strips away the lies he tells himself, and us, to reveal the truth.
There are some graphic elements in The Book of Malachi, which could trigger people. There are frank descriptions of genital self-mutilation, the murder of children, and operations. Malachi is also fixated with the genitals of the criminals. They are all naked to make caring for them more straightforward, so every time Malachi is with them, the reader is given descriptions of their bodies. There is a reason for this, but for the sake of being spoiler-free, I won’t tell you. However, I will say that, after a while, it felt gratuitous and lost its initial impact.
The central theme explores the subject of guilt. There is no doubt that the inmates on the oilrig are guilty of something, but is it what they were found guilty of and do they deserve their punishment? And are Raizier’s employees innocent? The organ harvesting operation is illegal, and the employees are being paid with much-needed organs for their loved ones. Without Raizier, their family members would die, so does that excuse the employees when they ignore the neglect of a stranded sailor who went to them for help? There is no easy answer for us or for Malachi, which is part of this book’s appeal. Everyone is guilty of something, and it is a question of what they can live with.
The Book of Malachi is not for the faint-hearted or squeamish, you have been warned, but it is also a gripping, tense novel about second chances. Highly recommended.