Victoria’s Book Reviews: Blue Ticket by Sophie Mackintosh

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“Believing in something is the first law of survival.”

Oh, this is a shame. I was so looking forward to this but, sadly, Blue Ticket is a disappointing second novel from Sophie Mackintosh. Her debut, The Water Cure, was utter magnificence; a deftly crafted nuanced story of sisters who have grown up on a remote island without the presence of men in their lives. However, that well-developed world creation filled with a fascinating set of characters and so-close-it’s-possible plot is missing in Blue Ticket.

In this novel, we are set in a world where young girls are allocated firm categories at puberty: to be given a white ticket means that you are marked out for motherhood and compulsory babies, a blue ticket means that you must remain childless. And these responsibilities are policed to the nth degree.

“Girls left one by one throughout the term. No goodbye parties, no notes. By the time it was my turn, barely anyone remained… We lined up, waiting to pull our tickets from the machine, the way you would take your number at the butcher’s counter… There was no way to change your ticket.”

Only quite why the world has introduced such rigorous inflexible categorisation is unclear; I certainly can’t think of a reason why that would be. Overpopulation? Societal rejection of single mothers?? The book never gets its head around this gaping chasm, which undermines the plot as it feels like we’ve jumped the shark quite a bit and that nagging missing info means you can’t ever really settle into this one.

Feminist speculative fiction is everywhere right now, and some great ones at that (incl. The Water Cure) but a key requirement in this genre is internal coherence and there is none here. In fact, it is exacerbated by the additional fact that once the young girls are given blue tickets, they are immediately thrown out of civil society altogether. Literally. They are immediately wrenched from their families and put on the streets, thrown out into the woods, with only their wits to survive.

But why? What does this achieve?? Wouldn’t that actually only reduce the control over these lives? Wouldn’t the state want to keep these girls close to them right away?

“We were so careless with our girls.”

We never find out the rationale behind all this odd selection and treatment. All we have, instead, is Calla. She is our (approximately) 30-year old blue-ticketed narrator. She leads a shallow, unfulfilling life so decides to become pregnant – against all the rules – and give birth to a child.

It seems like a strong plotline with plenty of opportunity for conflict but, sadly, the book has no narrative drive as, instead, it quickly sets into an endless internal monologue from Calla. And this goes on for pages and pages and pages, often with over-embellished prose e.g.

“My paranoia was like a physical substance, a watercolour paint that tinted everything. And yet I parked the car like it was a normal thing to do, like everything was fine.”

“I was not fragile, I was not protectable, I was dark wind and dust blowing across a landscape and there was nothing anybody could do for me.”

Atmospheric writing, yes, but endless pages of this numbs you and instead you are left wondering what Calla’s motivation is.

As a result, we readers lose interest. We remain perplexed at plot holes, get increasingly alienated from the narrator’s obsessive self-interest and are never the wiser on why Calla wants a baby. I sense that Sophie wanted to examine themes of male violence, patriarchal structures and even nature vs nurture (if you are commanded to have no children, does this shape your personality without you realising it?)

“She was telling me about her latest misadventure, catching a man in bed with someone else, and how could she compete when all the blue-ticket women were just hard-nosed sluts who thought only of fucking.”

The book meanders away for about 200 pages, only in the last 50 or so the plot gaining some complexity but how many will still continue to be reading at that point, I am unsure.

This book though has not dissuaded me from wanting to read more from Sophie. I sense in Blue Ticket a book hurried to market before the ideas and plot had been fully developed into a well-rounded novel. A touch of pressure from publishers to meet demand generated from The Water Cure? Possibly. Sophie remains an obvious talent and I hope she is given more time to fully flesh out her subsequent novels.

 

Blue Ticket was due to be published by Hamish Hamilton in May 2020 but I think this has now been pushed back to August; hardback RRP £10.99.

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