Last August I happened to be at the Kinokuniya Bookstore in Singapore and saw that there was a book launch going on. It was the launch for Suicide Club in Singapore and Rachel Heng was there answering questions about her debut novel. Being a book addict, although initially I had hesitated due to its title, I decided to find out what the book was about and upon knowing the premise of the book, I bought a copy of the novel and join the queue to get the author’s autograph.
Suicide Club is a dystopian fiction about immortality, humanity and technology. It poses the question : If you could live forever, would you want to? Contrary to its title, the story essentially tells us to live life to its fullest and that what you can do with your life matters.
In Suicide Club there are two strong and compelling but not very likeable female characters, Lea Kirino and Anja. The setting is New York city in the future.
Lea Kirino is one hundred years old and she is one of those people who are considered deserving to live forever. They are known as the lifers. To be a lifer, you have to be genetically perfect and subscribe to no alcohol, taking only drink juices, healthy meals, practise yoga and adhere to strict exercise regime. Lea is self-centred, upwardly mobile, works in finance that deals with commodity markets and trading for organs such as kidneys, hearts, lungs. She is the poster girl for lifers until the day she catches sight of her father on the street. She has lost contact with her dad, Kaito for eighty-eight years as he is classified as ‘ antisanct’ and has been placed on a permanent watch list. On that fateful day, when she pursues him, she has a brush with death and thus her carelessness sets off doubts as to whether she is worthy of immortality. The Ministry or the authorities despatch Observers to watch over her to assess if she is worthy of the Third Wave and she is ordered to attend WeCovery classes. She has a boyfriend, Todd who co-operates with the Observers thinking that it is for her welfare that she be placed on a watch list and now she risks losing everything she has worked for and she has to try to salvage her diminishing chance to be placed in the programme for the Third Wave where immortality is a possibility.
Anja is a Swedish violinist who has to tend to her ailing mother had been misaligned. Her comatose mother used to be a famous contralto singer and she is a known case of how medical technology has gone wrong. Anja is a member of the Suicide Club and she videotapes suicides. The club disseminates these unsettling images via social media to get people to question their lives and if it is worth living in their world as it is. Given ‘DiamondSkinTM’, the enhancements to human flesh to prevent bleeding in their world , it is nearly impossible to hurt oneself or take one’s life.
Imagine a life without ice cream cone, steak, burger and beer as they have since become illegal while spin classes , quinoa salads and green juices are enforced as law. The book is not advocating unhealthy living, it merely begs the question about the cost of advancement, scientific studies and technology and how we might end up compromising familiar love to live the perfect materialistic life forever. In this story, Lea was brought up by her mother, Uju who was a senior official in a Ministry-affiliated organisation. Lea remembers how Kaito used to get into fights with Uju about Nutripak meals as he clamoured for fried chicken, burgers and steaks that has since been called trad food. As Uju grew leaner , stronger and taller, Kaito became the opposite. Uju was ambitious, proactive and pragmatic. When Lea was twelve years old, her dad had to be sent away due to some incident that happened. To preserve her perfect life and Lea’s perfect record so that she remained a prime candidate for the Third Wave, Uju asked Lea to forget about her father as the latter’s values were not in sync with theirs.
Here is an excerpt from the book.
‘ The official position on high impact sport changed every few years, as scientists sponsored by different corporations and Ministry bodies raced to release papers and research studies. But the latest advisory was negative, so Lea and her father had the running paths mainly to themselves. A few stubborn joggers passed every now and then, their faces pink with cold and overworked capillaries, Lea herself had given up running a decade ago, as had most people she knew spooked by the constant vacillation within the scientific community.
Still, she felt a twinge of envy as she watched the runners go by, their mouths pinched into gredy huffing circles, eyes focused on some distant point. Bodies tense or loose, depending on the runner, but always moving with that same pounding, consuming rhythm. She missed it. The wind in her hair, the thump of blood in her ears, the hurtling feeling.’
Rachel Heng has created a dystopian tale that is fascinating and original. A commendable read.