A few short years from now, the world is an even more uncertain place than it is today, and politics everywhere is marching rightward. Britta, a wife, mother, and successful businesswoman, ignores the daily news and concentrates on her family and her work running a clinic specializing in suicide prevention. But her legitimate business is connected to a secret and far more lucrative operation known as The Bridge, an outfit that supplies terrorist organizations looking to employ suicide bombers.
If you want to write a dystopian novel in these quasi-dystopian times, you need to go dark. Really dark. And the premise of Juli Zeh’s bracing, furious novel, Empty Hearts, is so dark that I laughed out loud when I read it on the book’s back cover ... bracing, furious ... has the veneer of a thriller but it’s more accurate to call it a chiller: chilling in the accuracy of its satire and chilling in its diagnosis of our modern malaise. The novel may appear at first glance to be a facile 'Wake up, yuppies!' parable, but it guides us with assurance toward thornier terrain.
Zeh's thriller-plot continues to be rather far-fetched -- cinematic or made-for-TV over the top simplistic -- but offers more than a passing nod to the moral implications of actions and inaction. It doesn't quite work -- that ship largely sailed with the suicidal premise of The Bridge -- but at least she tosses it in the mix, and tries to treat it seriously ... For such weighty material, Zeh has opted for a very breezy story -- agreeably fast-paced, but certainly thin in way too many regards. The incidental activity and the descriptions of day-to-day business and life -- is what's most successful (except when it gets too predictable, as in the safe-house Britta, Babak, and Julietta retreat to). The suicidal drift of a society sinking into fatal anomie, on the other hand, could definitely do with more exposition. And the bad guys are more than just a little bit silly ... a thriller for these times, both in subject matter -- it practically screams, on every page: relevant! -- and in its essentially TV-formatted ultra-quick (and thin ...) presentation and handling of the issues. It is, ultimately, simply too quick -- in its action and its many leaps, including through moral and other kinds of hoops -- but is certainly adequately satisfying as a pass-time read or book-club selection (lots to discuss!).