Dystopian fiction is rarely a barrel of laughs, but ‘Pure’ is probably just about the darkest, bleakest speculation on humanity’s downfall I have read. This is a distressing book in so many ways, not least because the cruelty displayed by some of its characters is all too plausible. It rivals 1984 in its bleak analysis of the human condition.
‘Pure’ is set after the ‘detonations’, a cataclysmic chemical and nuclear fire-bombing of the entire planet (we assume). The fortunate ones were sheltered in an impervious dome, the rest were left to fend for themselves with the promise that ‘We will one day emerge from the Dome to join you in peace’ there is a heavy suggestion that those inside are God’s chosen few.
The story begins a decade or so after the detonations, and follows Pressia and Partridge Wilux (who rivals Ender Wiggin for a ‘most ridiculous protagonist name’ award). Pressia lives outside the Dome in a ruined city with areas such as the Meltlands and the Deadlands. Partridge lives safe inside. Pressia lives with her grandfather, eking out a hand to mouth existence, bartering and trading favours to survive. Partridge is the son of the Dome’s designer. All children in the dome are subjected to genetic recoding; enhancements to make them more useful to the rarefied society in which they life. Rather inevitably, Partridge is unhappy with his lot, and devises a way to escape.
The power of ‘Pure’ is derived from Baggott’s evocative descriptions of the world outside of the Dome. Everything is broken; nothing works as it should. Almost nothing can be grown, the ground is so contaminated. The inhabitants themselves are broken, both mentally and physically. Such was the power of the weapons used in the detonations that survivors found themselves fused to inanimate objects. Pressia has a dolls head fused to her hand; a hated reminder of a lost time. Throughout the book, treasured pets and loved ones have become attached to the wretches in the city outside the dome; the love/hate dichotomy this creates makes for some powerful writing. It is a highly original and discomfiting device.
It is not giving away much of the book to say that Pressia and Partridge meet. After initial mistrust, they discover they have more in common than they have any right to expect (this does stretch the novels credibility at times). Together with an intriguing, compelling and more than a little disturbing ensemble cast, they attempt to explore their shattered pasts, in the vague hope of understanding their parlous present.
There are similarities between ‘Pure’ and Suzanne Collins’ highly entertaining ‘Hunger Games’ series, but where Collins books are about a plucky individual sticking it to the man, Baggott’s novel is a much more subtle examination of the disintegration of society; the world that she has created is credible throughout. Broken bodies, broken bones, broken hands on broken ploughs, broken treaties, broken vows and people bending broken rules; it’s all here. Everything is broken. Baggott weaves a terrific tale in the aftermath of destruction. ‘Pure’ is ‘The Hunger Games’ for grown ups
Though its pace is sometimes a little slow, ‘Pure’ is a highly absorbing novel. It is also the first in a proposed trilogy, something that only became apparent to me, as I approached the novel’s end, and realised there was no way it could all be wrapped up. The novel’s finale is open, and as hard-hitting and emotional as the rest of the book. It also proves that Baggott can make unflinching decisions about the fate of her characters. ‘Pure’ is a fine novel and a must for all lovers of dystopian fiction. I look forward to the arrival of part two.