Katharine McGee, The Thousandth Floor, HarperCollins Australia, 1 Sept 2016, 237pp., $16.99 (pbk), ISBN: 9780008179977
This book uses the technique of letting us know something of the ending through the prologue. However, who it is that is featured in that prologue and the events leading up to that dramatic opening are the focus of the book as the intervening two months are gradually pieced together.
The Thousandth Floor is a futuristic novel but is not set in a secondary world. The scene is New York in 2118 where the characters featured in the book live in a super-tower. The level at which you live is very much a sign of class and right at the top is Avery Fuller, rich, beautiful and genetically-engineered to include only the very best traits of her parents and some other modifications to make her ‘perfect’.
Within this thousand-storey building are whole shopping malls, a new Central Park, roads, monorails, theme parks and so on. I found all this somewhat hard to visualise but it does seem to work as an internal structure for the narrative. This is a future world where driver-run cars are illegal and the only cars allowed are computer-driven hover cars, where ‘nano-dollars’ have replaced ordinary money, and where communication can be through thoughts to those who are recognised as one of your contacts. And, if you are caught in the rain, you no longer have to hold an umbrella as hover covers, held aloft by tiny motors at each corner, will keep you dry.
Importantly, the story is told from multiple narrative viewpoints. Each of the chapters is in the third-person, but from the point-of-view of one of the characters. This allows the reader to engage with each of them in turn and to understand the interweaving of their lives. The ultimate tragedy at the end of the book thus impacts on all of their lives and, it is not too dramatic to say, changes the course of all their lives too.
This is a rite-of-passage novel which, despite the futuristic setting, deals with a range of familiar issues: motherless girls; orphan boys; drugs; dealing; education; Eris, one of the characters, who finds her ‘father’ is not in fact her birth father; and pressure to get into right university, among others. Rylin, a girl from one of the lower floors, is worried that the ‘welfare’ will put her younger sister in care and so works several jobs to try to earn enough money to keep them safe. This also provides the scenario that leads to one element of suspense in the novel –will she give in to the entreaties of her former boyfriend, a drug dealer, to steal drugs to raise bail for him? Cord, for whom Rylin works as a cleaner, lives very much at the upper end of the tower and has plenty of money, but he and his brother are orphans and that has led to great loneliness and certain anti-social behaviours on their part. As each character interacts, they also learn that appearances can be deceptive and that the apparent perfection of someone’s life might well not be true. First loves develop too, and these can seem to break down class lines but is that likely to be lasting? The nature of family is explored, as is the importance of being honest, and trust and forgiveness in relationships.
A scarf plays an important part in the story and it is this that leads to one of the occasional editing errors – in one place the scarf is silk and in another it’s cashmere – and there are one or two other things that might, in a film, be called ‘continuity errors’. However, this is an intriguing read, using speculative fiction to provide a setting for romance and intrigue, as well as explore issues of relevance and interest to today’s YA market.
Reviewed by Margot Hillel