Thursday, August 25, 2011

Booker Longlist Reading - The Testament of Jesse Lamb and The Sisters Brothers

I'm taking the easy way and copying my GoodReads reviews of these two books below. Both of these were solid 3/5 stars, one because I didn't appreciate the preachy nature of the novel, and one because it was a fun and quick read but not really a genre I enjoy (so I wouldn't ever read it again).

The Testament of Jessie LambThe Testament of Jessie Lamb by Jane Rogers

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

When I saw the Booker Longlist for 2011, I was most excited about this book. It took a while to track it down since not many libraries in the states had purchased it yet!

I love a good dystopian novel, but I think this one is a little less than good. The premise is interesting - every human has been infected with MDS, a disease which lies dormant in the body until a woman becomes pregnant, and she dies soon after. Humanity is having to face the idea of becoming extinct, and it doesn't take long for one solution to present itself - 15-16 year olds who sacrifice their lives to become Sleeping Beauties, basically zombie-incubators for embryos that are still experimental within the time of the narration. (Zombies because the women still end up dying from the disease, not *actual* zombies).

The entire novel is somewhat of a journal written by Jessie Lamb, interspersed with accounts of her being held hostage in a room.

The story is compelling. The Handmaid's Tale meets Never Let Me Go meets, I don't know, Uglies? It does have an underlying YA feel to it, because of the emphasis on the teenage characters and their continuing interpersonal dramas, while the adults fade into the background. The way the parents are characterized is confusing, as the mother in particular seems unresponsive and untraumatized by events.

My biggest issue with the novel is how preachy it is. In the beginning you find 15 year olds waxing eloquently about how the earth will thrive after humans have died off, and mourning the devastation and pollution, which of course is unrealistic, and of course is just used for the author to make us understand how Truly Terrible this disease is. Just not necessary! A little more subtlety would have been greatly appreciated.

It happens again when the Sleeping Beauties come up, the comparison that the author draws between these young women entering into this arrangement knowing they will die and (mostly) men who do the same in entering a war. It is her argument, I'm not going to weigh in on it, but was another moment where I was taken completely out of the story because of how heavy-handed it was.

For another take on The Testament of Jesse Lamb, I enjoyed the entry over on Uncommon Reading. Suzanne captures how haunting the novel is, despite its faults, in a way I have not.

The Sisters BrothersThe Sisters Brothers by Patrick deWitt

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Not bad, just not my thing. A romp through Oregon and California during the Gold Rush, along with the Sisters brothers, who are ruthless killers. The cover art was my favorite part. That shouldn't keep you from trying it. I think others would like it more than I did.

View all my reviews


  1. I just can't get into Booker books (although Pigeon English is great, I hope it makes the short-list), most of the winners I have read end up being 3/5s. Maybe I just can't appreciate great literature?

    Love Orange Prize books though.

  2. Sam, I think the reason I try reading the "list" instead of just the winners is that I almost never agree with who they give the award too. So maybe it is worth it if I find one good book along the way? :)

    I should look into the Orange Prize. I enjoy reading lists. Maybe I'm obsessive.


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