This was a book that had a great premise, and thankfully it had the payoff to match. Sometimes books have a great premise but the execution leaves us wanting, this book though leaves everything on the page and fills our hunger for what we are promised from the outset.
Not all that is hidden is lost
For twelve years Aina and Whitney have been in exile on an island for a crime they committed together, tethered to a croft by pills they must take for survival every eight hours. They’ve kept busy – Aina with her garden, her jigsaw, her music; Whitney with his sculptures and maps – but something is not right.
An island, that was a prison, a great idea but not an original one if you read indie fiction (reminded me in a way of TC Parker’s ‘Salt Blood’ in that aspect). Our protagonists are tethered to this island by their constant need to take the medication that is dispensed three times a day, if they fail to take the medication they would succumb to the external forces that cause death.
If they miss one of these sessions, they would perish and that’s what keeps them in place – that’s what keeps them from exploring the island they find themselves on further, because they always need to factor in the time to get back for thier next fix.
They are there because they went against the government’s rulings over conceiving, there are strict laws in place (whether this is population control or not, it’s not overtly stated) – the government approves or decline applications and our protagonists were denied their right to conceive, but their wants and desires overcome the decisions passed down from the powers that be. It’s not overtly stated but this does have some dystopian vibes, on a par with say The Hunger Games – something is off-kilter, but I appreciated that Watson doesn’t spend a lot of time detailing that to us, but it comes in snapshots and dreams etc.
But they now find themselves on the island, thier prison cell for want of a better word – awaiting parole. They’ve had time to think, to change, to understand their place in this new world order, and so they wait, patiently. They take their drugs and they keep on heading towards their upcoming parole hearing and the prospect of seeing their child once again.
If and when they eventually make it off the island.
This is a hard book to detail without giving away spoilers and it’s also a book that is hard to define too – is it apocalyptic, dystopian, horror? It blends genre with ease and had me thinking of books such as Salt Blood, On The Beach, The Hunger Games, 1984, Lord of the Flies, and a whole lot more.
The landscape and location are almost characters in their own right and I really enjoyed the escalating tension that is brought into the story, which really centres around only two characters. The slow burn and subtle reveals work well in further cementing that tension that our characters face and the distrust they have for one another, whilst also giving us glimpses of the world off the island and the one they’ve been forced to leave. Showing us, or allowing us to peek behind the curtain at the state of the world.
It’s a great debut, but it did leave me with many unanswered questions; the pill clock for example: how does this never run out? Why are there so many shipwrecks (this is hinted at later but I felt needed a bit more explanation). What’s the pathogen or thing that would kill them if they didn’t take their tablets and why is this only located on this island?
A great debut novel that tells a story of survival and mistrust with skill and craft.
Metronome is published by Bloomsbury and is available here.
Tom Watson was born in London in 1982. He holds an M.A. in Creative Writing from the University of East Anglia, and was awarded the Curtis Brown Prize in 2018. His fiction has been shortlisted for the Bristol Short Story Prize, received an honourable mention in the Berlin Writing Prize, and awarded runner up for the Seán O’Faoláin Short Story Competition. His first novel will be published by Bloomsbury. He lives in London with his wife and children.
Reviewed by Ross Jeffery
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