Calla herself is the pillar of the story, a compelling figure who balances thoughtfulness with ferocity, and whose growth throughout is more than earned ... This tense plot is nonetheless told with such restraint and subtlety that the one or two heavy-handed moments felt odd, as if they belonged to a different book. A few turns felt rushed, but over all the writing is clear and sharp, with piercing moments of wisdom and insight that drive toward a pitch-perfect ending ... not a book that offers easy answers. It does not explain how the world ended up this way — or even where in the world, exactly, the story takes place. This lack of concrete information is far from frustrating, but rather essential to the narrative effect: something allegorical and dreamlike, a story that doesn’t so much declare things about our outside world as reveal, intimately, Calla’s interior one. That isn’t to say there are no meaningful parallels to be drawn between the protagonist’s experience and that of being a woman in today’s world — but these are drawn not through the dystopian premise, but through the story’s thoughtful specificity ... Mackintosh successfully avoids a potential pitfall of the genre: its single-issue focus ... adds something new to the dystopian tradition set by Orwell’s 1984 or Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale. Those novels were like mirrors, meant to reflect us back to ourselves with horrifying clarity. Blue Ticket concerns itself more with its small cast of characters than with the world they occupy, but the novel is no less relevant or incisive for its intimacy. It is as much about the tension between independence and obligation, between desire and capability, as it is about contemporary womanhood: under constant threat just for having a body, and longing to decide your own fate.
The author’s style is spare but thoughtful. Every detail enhances the plot and the atmosphere at once ... For some authors the plot would now be thick enough. Let the quartet eke out survival as their bellies grow and see what happens. But Mackintosh understands that while there may be just two ticket colors in this society, there can be more than two sides to every story ... Mackintosh’s description of Calla’s childbirth will resonate with those who have been through it, and properly terrify those who haven’t ... What may be most memorable about Blue Ticket lies in the concept of women and agency. Calla’s society allows women so little choice about procreation, yet expects all women to have leisure time ... Sophie Mackintosh lays bare many of the fears and realities that face any society’s women as they contemplate when their choices begin, and where they might end.
Doctors seem to have a great deal of control over the woman they supervise, but Mackintosh keeps the details deliberately vague, intensifying the mood of generalized dread ... Without delving into specifics, Mackintosh creates a hostile environment that deforms all relationships ... Blue Ticket is not about whether women should have babies but about what happens to human beings when their ability to choose is denied. When Calla is finally offered a choice, it’s a terrible one, and Mackintosh gives her only the smallest modicum of hope to lessen its bleakness. Written in cool, clinical prose parceled out in short paragraphs separated by lots of white space, Blue Ticket does not aim to stir our emotions, even though it deals with emotionally fraught material. Mackintosh traffics in ambivalence and ambiguity, suitable tools for charting Calla’s hesitant progress toward, if not self-knowledge, at least knowledge of what she is looking for.
... a timely meditation on what it means to be a woman, a mother and its (supposed) unnamed 'opposite'. Once, not so long ago, I’d have termed it 'dystopian' ... The layout feels so refreshing: sections with chapters of varying lengths. The first chapter is a single page consisting of five short paragraphs. The book reflects the world it speaks of and implores us to keep up. I found it fascinating how quickly the action unfolds; there is very little build-up and it is positively thrilling ... There is almost constant drama: this is a book to set the blood coursing through your veins. Set in an eerily familiar time and place as any we still know, yet as fantastical and other as Atwood’s Gilead, it’s about being human, simply. About being alive in troubling, confusing times – about finding our way through the “reality” enforced upon us – both externally and internally ... This remarkable novel acts as a crucial reminder that, in essence, the body we are born into (and its own respective journey) is in part a gamble in which the self we so willingly categorise plays a somewhat minor role ... This book might reshape your views on much, perhaps even your relationship with being alive.
... gripping, ethereal ... Although Blue Ticket will be welcomed into the canon of feminist dystopian literature, on the whole its concerns are more everyday, more domestic than that makes it sound. Its main aim isn’t to make the case for a woman’s right to choose, but to explore the mysterious inner forces that motivate her choice ... Calla is a naive narrator who struggles to understand the maternal instinct building inside her. At first this makes for prose that can feel merely atmospheric, as if pictured through a haze; the dystopia is sketched in faint lines and that parental urge, for much of the novel, is ascribed only to a vague 'dark feeling'. Yet Mackintosh handles that haziness deliberately and with poise. She lets Calla find more words for her feelings very gradually, demonstrating the near impossibility of trying to articulate or rationalise maternal desire.
... bleak and unrelenting ... a provocative and challenging book, one that offers a particular perspective of the slippery slope that is institutional control of bodily autonomy. It is tense and thrilling, combining in-depth character study with just the right amount of background. And while the setting is a speculative future, the woman on the run narrative is one that transcends its genre framework ... You might be tempted to view Blue Ticket through the nigh-ubiquitous lens of Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale– and make no mistake, there are definitely similarities in both substance and style – but the world that Mackintosh has created is very much its own thing. It’s a far more secular book, largely devoid of overt religious overtones and instead extrapolating out an ostensibly just bureaucratic system driven by a sterile misogyny ... Often, speculative fiction has a tendency to overexplain. There’s an understandable temptation toward info-dump exposition, but most of the time, it just serves as unnecessary handholding that pulls the reader away from the narrative. Mackintosh displays little interest in that sort of shepherding, opting instead to focus on the journey; we learn everything we need to know about this world through the eyes of the characters as they engage with it – the author is deliberate in making sure we get some understanding of what it means to feel you’re on the wrong side from BOTH sides. A little ambiguity never hurt anyone, and the truth is that it’s more fun when we get to fill in some of the margins with our own imaginations ... Mackintosh is also a propulsive storyteller. It’s easy to mine tension from a chase or a confrontation, but she turns routine doctor visits and phone calls into taut nail-biters. And she’s created someone fascinating in Calla; so much of the book’s power comes from our look inside her head as she struggles with the conflicts and consequences of her choice ... a thoughtful adventure, a voyage of principle and pathos. It has big thematic ideas, but wraps them in a complicated and thrilling narrative – an engaging combination. The most interesting speculative fiction is the kind that has something meaningful to say – and this book certainly qualifies.
Mackintosh’s prose matches her method: often beautiful and otherworldly, violent and tender, reverberating into the darkness. Allegory can work like this, and myth, and fairytale, though one or two moments when Mackintosh self-consciously summons the tropes of the latter can be a little too obvious ... She is especially good on female physicality – on the mess and strength and, in extremis, the capacity for violence – and on the psychological effects of a denial of this physicality ... I increasingly felt, however, that Mackintosh’s project was not aided by refusing men the same quality of attention. No one, male or female, is especially nice here (a political choice, and an important one), but the men in both her books have almost no redeeming features: they are predators, users, manipulators, weak, violent, incipient rapists – or, if fathers, recipients of unearned veneration and gifts. Any kindness they show is conditional and easily retracted; there is little in the way of individuality. Of course, patriarchy warps those it privileges as well as those it negates, but this reads as simplistic. I also became uncomfortable, in the end, with the characterisation of blue-ticket Calla examining her existence ... Yes, the book is narrated from Calla’s point of view, and these opinions belong to her; we often diminish the thing of which we fight to be free. But the narrative voice seems to channel damaging cliches about childless women; and after all the clear-eyed harshness, the idea of maternity, of being a 'true mother', is mushily romanticised. A more persuasive complexity has been lost – as though Mackintosh set something running that was so powerful, it got away from her.
Mackintosh gives her novel a strange staccato rhythm. We are permanently in Calla’s head, and her ruminations emerge in a succession of brief paragraphs. Her vocabulary is sophisticated, even poetic, yet the affect is flat, cerebral and detached, even when she is describing pain or passion. I guess I got a bit tired of her constant self-observation. Too much interiority can feel airless, however beautiful the language ... Yet I also found myself drawn into Calla’s journey. There is something shivery and enthralling about the simultaneous unfolding of two mysteries.
Along the way Calla meets other women (as a side note all the women are given a name, while the men are designated a letter) and it’s during these encounters that Mackintosh raises questions about free will, reproductive rights, and motherhood. There’s a cogent moment where Calla chances upon a white ticket holder fleeing her responsibility to have children. Rather than appreciating that this woman’s right not to have a child is as valid as the right to give birth, Calla is instead overwhelmed by feelings of resentment. It’s an eye-opening moment ... Mackintosh does not attempt to flesh out her world beyond what’s needed to tell Calla’s story. But I also appreciate that what’s important about the world depicted in Blue Ticket isn’t so much the whys and wherefores, but to recognise that men aren’t required to go through the lottery process to decide who gets sterilised.
...chilling ... Like Sarah Hall in Daughters of the North or Leni Zumas in Red Clocks, Mackintosh brings a new sense of pathos to the dystopian novel. Late in the book, Mackintosh reveals that Calla, like other women in her country, has little to no medical knowledge about her own body, especially when it comes to pregnancy and childbirth. They're shocked to learn about the placenta, for example, and have no instinct for how to hold a baby. This detail transforms Calla's haunting quest to become a mother into a heartbreaking bid for self-determination, self-worth, and self-knowledge—no matter the cost ... A moving and original meditation on freedom, fate, and women's rage.
Mackintosh’s haunting, dystopian tale...explores the emotional fallout of forced birth control in a near-future society ... Mackintosh serves up vivid details of Calla’s psychological ordeal in the language of body horror...and convincingly conveys Calla’s and Marisol’s desperation. This tense, visionary drama is a notable addition to the growing body of patriarchal dystopias.