William Sutcliffe, We See Everything, Bloomsbury, 1 Nov 2017, 272pp., $16.99 (pbk), ISBN: 9781408895986
This dystopian novel is set in a future London that has been devastated and almost totally destroyed by war (think present day Middle East) and features two young men who are on opposite sides of the conflict. Lex lives with his family in the claustrophobic overcrowded Strip surrounded by the shattered remains of once famous landmarks, scraping a precarious living. The other, Alan, is a military techno genius, operating a surveillance drone focused on K622, Lex’s father, who is in the resistance movement.
We follow Lex as he delivers secret messages, falls in love, fights with his dad. Sutcliffe is adept at writing tense scenes expressing teenage angst – full of repressed rage, incoherent emotion and, when Lex is with his girlfriend Zoe, rapture. Alan on the other hand has had all normal emotion trained out of him. He despises his mother, his neighbours , in fact all those who are not in his group. An unfortunate romantic episode jolts some uncomfortable feelings and he then becomes more interesting because he is more human.
The story alternates between these two and Sutcliffe cleverly builds up suspense as it becomes obvious that both sides are about to do something major. Both young men change under these stresses and strains, relationships grow or falter, work becomes more challenging and decisions have to be made. The novel ratchets up the tension building to a shattering climax and then provides a coda where we see what has happened to the survivors of the cataclysm over a number of years.
While the characters are carefully developed I did have constant unanswered questions. Why were these two sides at war? How did it start? The situation is so bizarre given the reasonably amicable cultural mix in London today that this catastrophic change needed some explanation. We are given the setting but not the ideology. Presumably the idea is to create an ‘everywhere’ but given the specific London location it doesn’t quite work.
This is an enjoyable read for its fast paced action and the clever build-up of tension but somewhat unsatisfying because of the unanswered questions.
Reviewed by Mia Macrossan