Green Valley by Louis Greenberg

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A timely novel which makes the reader question their place in our modern, technological, world, Green Valley offers a unique comment on society via the use of its fast-paced plot and bold characters. As we begin to take a look at how and why we use technology within every aspect of our lives, Green Valley shows us a potential future: an environment where people have gone one of two ways – either embracing the complete invasion of virtual reality, or rejecting all forms of modern tech entirely. It is an interesting concept that I doubt many have seen discussed before in a, at times gripping, novel like this.

The beginning of the book is the novel’s strongest point. We are presented with a promising opening, diving straight into the world and the main driving point of the plot:  Lucie Sterling’s (our main character) niece has gone missing. Through interactions with her colleagues (Lucie is a cop in this fictional, American-esque, town) we begin to understand the basic principles of the society and the decisions which led them here. In a novel like this, which relies heavily on the understanding and immersion of this new, unfamiliar, world, it is often important that the reader quickly comes to terms with the environment that these characters are inhabiting, to better understand their actions and emphasise with their cause. Greenberg has taken the approach of a fast, sometimes obvious, revelation – however for me, the conversations and simple explanations worked. My questions were answered, and I could get on with the core plot, engage with the characters, and focus on the imagery used.

The start of the novel is also where much of this beautiful imagery takes place as well. There are some truly wonderful sentences which, when placed alongside the dark nature of the themes, only stand out and excel even more so:

The air in the wall’s shadow was frigid and stagnant. There was nothing alive here, no evidence even of birds or rats. I could see only two or three rushed graffiti tags on the concrete expanse that should have been an ideal palette for blazers across the city. Those skittish scrawls spoke less of the kids who’d sprayed them than of the unseen ghosts that had chased them away. From what we knew, not even homeless squatters had risked taking up residence in those free houses. The shadow of the wall was a curse.”

Greenberg uses paragraphs like this to create the two worlds that Lucie is slowly taking us through. The filth of the ‘real’ town juxtaposes wonderfully with the eerie pristine environment of Green Valley (the VR-like community). Bright colours clash against dark and grey tones, yet everywhere there remains a sense of helplessness and uncertainty that the other ‘side’ has made the better decision.

It is an interesting concept which Greenberg delves into throughout this narrative. While Stanton has renounced its use of technology, largely because of privacy concerns, it struggles with basic things such as police work and communication. In Green Valley, on the other hand, their heavy reliance on immersing themselves in the digital world has left them unable to survive in a ‘real’ society, and boundaries are being pushed regarding what they could – and should – create. There is a lot of criticism in our own society regarding technology, and how invasive it can be. There has also been many a novel produced which deals with this exact anxiety, however where Greenberg excels is his unique approach in combining the flaws of two societies and showing them both at their most extreme. It made me take a step back and consider my own relationship to technology, and where my own views fall on the spectrum. Will there ever be a happy medium, a harmonious relationship between the organic and electronic?

Green Valley is full of these fantastic gems and comments about humanity, which really surprise the reader amongst this plot heavy and quick-moving novel:

“Could it really be that humans are shackled to the earth, that utter freedom terrifies us? We like straight lines; we want the feel of the ground under our feet.” “You could take away the social networks, but our will to compete and compare, our craving for affirmation, would always remain.”

There is no doubt that Greenberg is a clever, alert and ambitious writer, capable of creating unique environments, strong characters, and interesting plots.

However, the book really feel flat during the second half. A sudden twist to a different point of view was unexpected and could be regarded as exciting, but ultimately largely unwarranted and took away from the strong writing and world building in the beginning. It is at and after this point that the pace of the book really picks up. Characters meet much too soon, things are resolved at the turn of a page, and everything feels just a little bit rushed. I wanted to stay with the world building, the tantalising imagery, the exciting yet steady page-turning pace that I was initially enjoying. While there are still some fantastic pockets of writing and Lucie remains a strong and believable character, it felt like the story was sweeping past her. The tension that is bursting with every previous page, very quickly disappears, even in darker moments when the story had the opportunity to somewhat redeem itself.

Ultimately, Green Valley is a smart and promising book that built up my expectations but then sadly let them vanish. While I did enjoy the novel overall – mostly due to the different plot and wisdoms into humanity – I can’t help feeling that it could have been so much more, if it had remained focused, steady, and worked to its own, unique strengths. Perhaps if I had just started with the pace and tone that the second half delivered, I would not hold these opinions and instead rate it averagely, not expecting much more. But because it starts so strong, because it promises so much, it was then slightly disappointing when it didn’t deliver in its entirety.

Green Valley is published by Titan Books and is available here.

Louis Greenberg

Louis Greenberg is a renowned writer in his own right, having been shortlisted for the Commonwealth Writers Prize for his debut novel The Beggars’ Signwriters (Umuzi, 2007), but is perhaps more known for his work with Sarah Lotz as one half of internationally bestselling S.L. Grey. Green Valley is his first solo novel to be published outside his native South Africa. He is currently based in England.

Reviewed by Mariah Feria

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