Written during our plague year and imagining how we might respond to a still more terrible pandemic, it is first and foremost a terrific and gripping story which asks questions, engages the imagination and offers surprise with a couple of twists in the tail. It is not only a 'what has happened to bring us to this state?' novel; it is also a 'what happens next?' one; a masterclass in storytelling ... What, apart from curiosity, makes the reading-on irresistible is the narrative voice...Here it belongs to Haley and it is wonderful ... In short, Haley is a triumph and because the voice is right, the novel is right ... There is much practical instruction, ranging from what you might call a hi-tech boy scout’s handbook to how to milk a sheep or amputate a leg, and this gives ballast to the narrative. Essentially, however, like all good novels, it’s an exploration of human relationships and different kinds of love ... It’s unusual for a dystopian novel to be rich in humanity, but this one is ... Ewan Morrison has been recognized as the best or certainly most interesting Scottish novelist of his generation, and this is the best book he has yet written. I suppose some fools will accuse him of cultural appropriation for choosing to write in the voice of a teenage girl. Well, there is no shortage of fools in the world, and never has been. There is, however, a shortage of novels that can make you both feel and think as this one does.
Morrison employs familiar ideas as a starting point from which to cover new ground ... What begins as a topical thriller soon deepens into a complex, thought-provoking drama about fake news, real fears and frayed family ties ... Haley’s new normal manages to be both exciting and terrifying. Tension mounts as she clashes with her captors or tries to outwit them. A daring escape is made up of several heart-in-the-mouth moments. But the most suspenseful interlude – and indeed the book’s standout set-piece – is a blow-by-blow account of an amputation. As with Ian McEwan’s scene of home surgery in The Innocent, Morrison succeeds in attracting and repelling in equal measure ... Some readers will run a mile from a novel about a future pandemic and a bleak new world. But Morrison topples our expectations, surprising us with unexpected twists and bouts of black comedy, while simultaneously grappling with big ideas including the value of freedom, the cost of madness and the dangers of manipulation. It is a bold and compelling book by a writer whose creative risks continue to pay huge dividends.
The novel’s ingenuity is in keeping the reader on tiptoes ... The funniest thing about this book is that it is funny ... Is this ‘too soon’? Morrison gets his defence in early: it was always too late. Non-fiction writers such as Mark O’Connell have looked seriously at the culture around survivalists, not least in terms of its defensive, macho nature; but it takes a novelist as humane and wry as Morrison to find in it a very weird redemption. The novel’s moral core comes with Haley wondering if the razor wire is designed to keep out or to keep in; but its horrible epiphany is that stone walls do not a prison make. We are trapped, regardless. But at least we’re laughing.