Hystopia: David Means

2016 Man Booker Prize longlistee

Not to judge a book by its cover, but the very psychedelic patterning drew me in. Plus, anything making reference to history usually manages to tempt me. I love a good dystopian novel.

Hystopia is a bit of a strange one. It follows an alternative history, one where Kennedy was not shot from the grassy knoll, having somehow managed to secure himself a third term in office. Vietnam veterans returning from the ongoing conflict are ‘enfolded’ into treatment programmes that repress traumatic memories of the war. The book is written by Eugene Allen, as a book within a book written by David Means. Allen is a fictional character, yet part of his history and motivations for writing are explored in interviews and editor’s notes before and after the ‘book’. It is all very complicated and definitely makes much more sense when you actually read the thing, but do not be deterred.

It is a very strange book. Violent, aggressive, on verge of anarchic; it is definitely not the kind of thing that you come across everyday. Often I find violence in a book reads a tad disjointedly, but the extra detail of emotional and physical trauma really added to it. It could have been a real history of the US in the 1960s. To be honest, my American history is not that great, and I could definitely see how Means/Allen draw upon broad events to create such a detailed alternative history.

If you fancy something a bit different, whether you are into dystopian literature or just straight up war stuff, I am sure you will find something that appeals in Hystopia. I definitely enjoyed it, I just do not feel I ever got into the flow of it – potentially due to deadlines and history readings and various other life things that got in the way.



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