Anne Charnock's first novel, A Calculated Life, offers a glimpse into late 21st Century England. It isn't glamorous, nor is it horrific. It's a dystopia where government and corporations control a pacified populace. The population has been divided into augmented professionals, who live in wonderful neighborhoods with all the trappings of upper middle class life we see today, and organics, who are crowded together in enclaves outside the city. The enclaves aren't filthy hellholes, but rather subsidized housing where their residents make use of everything to scrape up extra money to take the edge off of their spartan existence.
The story is told from the POV of a young woman named Jayna. She works for a successful analytical firm that studies global trends; seeking signals in the noise of everyday life, like whether or not wind direction affects reports of violence. We realize at the outset that Jayna is different, even from the augmented managers she works for. As the novel progresses, we learn more about Jayna's world as she seeks to find correlations between disparate events. But this quest for empirical data is also trek of self-discovery for Jayna.
Charnock has done an excellent job of getting the reader into Jayna's head and forging a relationship with her. We see the world through her eyes. We're a mute witness to her thoughts as she hypothesizes and postulates, unable to offer her helpful advice. We're her co-conspirator as she concocts schemes and formulates plans to carry out forbidden activities. Over the course of the novel, it is this intimate closeness which lets us silently cheer her on and prevents us from reaching out to her in her greatest time of need.
My one negative is that the story got off to a slow start. It didn't really grab me right away and my limited patience threatened to take a pass on it. Fortunately, something about Jayna piqued my curiosity and I stuck with it. I'm glad I did, but I worry that others won't. Maybe this review will convince them to hang around for this slow burn.
In summary, A Calculated Life is an excellent character study. Charnock deftly bonds the reader with her protagonist and leads us by the calculator through her strengths and failings in an attempt to establish the proper emotional algorithms for the human condition.
For more information, including purchasing information, please see the author's website.