“ Format: Kindle Edition / File Size: 626 KB / Publisher: Smashwords / Published: 15 Mar 2011 / Sold by: Amazon Media EU S.à r.l. / Language: English „
Rather conventionally, Max is set in a dystopian future where the entire population is controlled by a mixture of TV, drugs and chip implants which record their every move. They don't yet know it, but the whole society is poised on the brink of revolution. They just need someone to show the way - a very special child called Max.
Max is one of those books which it is very hard to pigeonhole into a particular genre. On the face of it, it is fairly obviously a science fiction title. All the tropes of the genre are there: a totalitarian society, a population controlled, massive megacities and corrupt politicians and police. On the other hand, there is so much more to it. Max is about humanity, symbols, people, infertility and the longing for children, madness and many, many other things.
This is both Max's blessing and its curse.
On the one hand, it is an intelligent piece of science fiction writing. It is well-written and thought-provoking. There are some ideas in here which will challenge you beyond the confines of the story and start you thinking about what our society has become (or how it might evolve). I found myself waking up in the middle of the night thinking about some of the ideas contained in the book, or about how far society would have to fall before it started to accept some of the ideas advanced in Max (depressing answer: not very far).
On the other hand, there are perhaps a few too many ideas floating around, which makes it rather difficult to get a handle on. Several times I thought I'd finally worked out what the book was about and it would jag off in a new and unexpected direction. This was not always a bad thing - a book that constantly challenges and redefines expectations is to be welcomed. At the same time, though, you were sometimes left with the impression that the book lacked focus. It felt as though there were too many ideas competing for attention and because of this none of them were ever quite given the full treatment they deserve. Some fare better than others, but (and it's rare to think this) perhaps a few less original ideas might have helped.
Where Houghton is particularly successful is in creating his vision of the future. We have become pretty used to seeing dystopian futures in films and in one sense, Houghton's vision merely feeds into these, reinforcing certain ideas and imitating what has gone before. On the other, there is something creepily disconcerting about his depiction of this future Earth. Many of the ideas he advances are not actually a million miles y from where we are now and his book acts as a warning: this is what society could very easily become if we allow it. The image of the future Houghton conjures is disturbing and unsettling and creates a very effective backdrop for the novel. This is the future world of Orwell, not the future world of Hollywood. There is a gritty, disturbing reality that will haunt you long after you have read the final page.
It's a real pity that the novel's setup of this world was rather long-winded. The early stages drag a little as Houghton set up the boundaries of his world. We are all fairly familiar with the idea of broken futures, and perhaps Houghton could have dispensed with at least some of this detail. The again, it's this very level of detail that creates such a convincing setting.
I didn't always find Max an easy book to read. With a few minor diversions into something approaching happiness, the tone is unrelentingly bleak. There is a raw power to the words that inflict emotional pain. In particular, the constant failed attempts of one of the main characters and his wife to have a baby (in a world where every woman can have just one child) are heart-rending. Houghton and his wife themselves underwent fertility treatment and it is clear in these sections that the author is using his own experiences to portray the torment of repeated, failed attempts to start a family. Such segments do not make for easy reading.
Perhaps because of these slightly heavy undertones, I found that I could only read Max in small chunks. It took me a lot longer than normal to get through the book and there were times when reading it was a bit of a chore. This wasn't because I wasn't enjoying it; it was simply because reading it was a genuinely emotionally draining experience.
In many ways, this merely underlines what an excellent writer Houghton is. He has an excellent command of language that means he can evoke a whole range of emotions, establishing a different atmosphere for different parts of the book. Although there may be several diversions along the route, his narrative is very skilfully constructed. He constantly defies expectations of where this book is heading and whilst this can occasionally be frustrating, it's mostly rewarding.
The very nature of Max means that it is never going to appeal to the mass market. It is complex, intelligent, challenging and sometimes disheartening. The bleak undertones will put an awful lot of people off and the rambling narrative will frustrate. Overall, I sort of enjoyed this book, but there were times when I struggled with it. I certainly didn't enjoy as much Houghton's three previous books (The Dinner Party, The Apprentice and Game Boy). As such, it's a qualified recommendation from me.
Max is only available as an e-book across a range of different platforms (Kindle, Nook, Sony e-Book Reader, iBooks etc.)and can be purchased from Amazon for £2.55.
(c) Copyright SWSt 2013