Sarah Maria Griffin opens up ‘Spare and Found Parts’ with three rules:
1.) The sick in the Pale, the healed in the Pasture.
2.) Contribute, at all cost.
3.) All code is blasphemy.
With these three rules Griffin has set up all the parts needed for a great Frankenstein/coming of age story. Take this blend, add a world that has been devastated by a disease causing people to lose pieces of themselves, throw a dash of class struggle in, mix in a love story and you have a first-rate original novel.
The world of Spare and Found Parts is set in the future, but not in a glowing future, or in a Mad Max future. A toxic electromagnetic pulse, dubbed the “Turn” killed computers and created a disease that took limbs, organs, hearts, or lives. But, instead of a human versus human society, we have a society where everyone is trying to rebuild, just without the evil computers of the past. We are in Black Water City on an unknown island. I tried my best to place where it actually was, but Griffin added enough detail that it is its own place. There is a giant statue that is being built, burnt out buildings that are being reused, and an area called the “Pasture” which houses the printed internet. They have no contact with the rest of the world, leaving them to their own society.
I really enjoyed this view of a world after a cataclysmic event. No one is eating each other, or racing to get gas, they are just trying to be normal. However, there is the underlying fear of computers. Not technology, though it seems like no one has electricity, just computers. Griffin paints a picture of the world before the “Turn”, showing whole towns that didn’t speak to each other, only looking at their phones or computers. The fear of computer rule caused humans to shut them down.
It did feel a little weird to be reading these parts on my Kindle, but I’m sure I won’t be losing an arm or eye to it.
The Frankenstein bit comes with our protagonist, Penelope(Nell) Crane. Her time for contribution is fast approaching and she has nothing. The contribution is how people are going to show they are going to make society a better place. It can be as simple as becoming a baker or seamstress, or as advanced as providing prosthetics. Nell’s father’s contribution was prosthetics, including creating the clockwork heart in Nell’s chest. This contribution is a big shadow for Nell to live under. Griffin shows us she is smart, she can whip up little battery powered trinkets easily. But, she has nothing and she is not sure she wants to come up with anything.
I wouldn’t say she is exactly a moody teen, but she has these tendencies. No one understands her, her friend Ruby is focused on boys, she can’t stand the one boy she is sorta friends with, Oliver. However, this isn’t an angsty teen melodrama. Instead, Griffin paints the characters as real teens dealing with the pressure of helping society. Some things work out for them, some things don’t.
Right from the start I found Nell compelling. The ticking of her clockwork heart follows her around, the perfect tool to display her emotions. She has a pet stoat, which is awesome. And she wants to build a robot boy. Nell is hoping this creation will be the perfect friend and possibly the key to opening the eyes of the world around her. However, this plan doesn’t sit well with the rest of society. To make the robot real, she needs a computer to control the body parts. Which means she is going to have to break one of the city’s rules. Her friends call her monster, her Grandmother thinks it is an abomination, and her father has other plans for it. However not all the citizens believe code is bad. There is a beautiful scene of Nell dancing to music with some revolutionaries who want to bring computers back, letting the bass and drums take her away from her thoughts for awhile.
Throughout the book some of the chapters switch from third person to second person. It’s a great way to get you in the head of Nell and later in the book, Nell’s creation. We are forced to see different events, to feel these things happening to us. I haven’t seen that tool used in many books, it is something that could either be difficult for the author or possibly take the reader out of the story. But here it is done with excellent skill. I felt myself thinking about what Nell was doing and wondering if I was a monster or visionary. This switch is done just enough to keep it fresh and is very effective.
The plot lines of the novel tie up in a way I wasn’t expecting, but was extremely happy to see. I found myself looking back and forth through the pages trying to see if I could determine what was going to happen. I’m happy to say that I was never right in my guesses. In fact, I started to take notes to see if I could emulate the skill found in Griffin’s writing. The use of Nell’s ticking, the weather, the struggle in Nell’s thoughts on creating a robot are all done wonderfully. Griffin’s prose is like smooth liquor, you won’t realize how many pages you finished until you look up at the clock.
I have to admit I had a hard time reviewing this one. There was so much I wanted to show, so much I wanted to share. But, I don’t want to take away from the magic of this novel. Instead what I can do is tell you that this is an amazing book that updates the Frankenstein story in the best way possible, by putting the power of creation in the hands of a clockwork teenager.
Sarah Maria Griffin
Sarah Maria Griffin is a writer from Dublin, Ireland. Her nonfiction has appeared on The Irish Times, Buzzfeed, The Rumpus, Midnight Breakfast, Guts and Winter Pages. Her collection of essays about emigration, Not Lost, was published by New Island Press in 2013. She was the recipient of the European Science Fiction Awards Chrysalis Award in 2017. She tweets @griffski.
Spare and Found Parts is available from Titan Books here.
Reviewed by Matt Brandenburg
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